a feminist technology blog

Category: internet fame

Preview: To See and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter

I’ve added a draft version of “To See and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter,” a paper I wrote with danah boyd last summer which will be published in Convergence sometime next year.

Download draft [pdf file]


Social media technologies let people connect by creating and sharing content. We examine the use of Twitter by famous people to conceptualize celebrity as a practice. On Twitter, celebrity is practiced through the appearance and performance of ‘backstage’ access. Celebrity practitioners reveal what appears to be personal information to create a sense of intimacy between participant and follower, publically acknowledge fans, and use language and cultural references to create affiliations with followers. Interactions with other celebrity practitioners and personalities give the impression of candid, uncensored looks at the people behind the personas. But the indeterminate ‘authenticity’ of these performances appeals to some audiences, who enjoy the game playing intrinsic to gossip consumption. While celebrity practice is theoretically open to all, it is not an equalizer or democratizing discourse. Indeed, in order to successfully practice celebrity, fans must recognize the power differentials intrinsic to the relationship.

Please note that this is not the final version. But it is very close to it– we didn’t have too many edits with our peer reviewers– and hopefully it will be useful for those of you studying celebrity and/or Twitter.

This paper was a lot of fun to work on, and it inspired a great deal of the work on micro-celebrity that appeared in my dissertation. My case studies are Miley Cyrus, Mariah Carey, and Perez Hilton. Miley was an especially hilarious person to study as she often dragged her various Disney starlet friends and family members into her Twitter arguments. I was quite sad when she retired from Twitter via YouTube video.


Marwick, A. and boyd, danah (Forthcoming, in final review). “To See and Be Seen: Celebrity Practice on Twitter.” Convergence.

Some celeb twitter tools

So I’m working on a project about celebrity use of Twitter. Here are a few recent tools I’ve found to be endlessly entertaining when looking at celebs, status, and social norms on Twitter:

  • Who Celebs Tweet, with the tagline: Have they tweeted you? I find this the most interesting because they have a very clear demarcation between who is a celeb and who isn’t. Like, according to them, Heidi Montag is not a celeb. I don’t necessarily think she should be a celeb, but to deny that she’s famous seems odd. Maybe the proprietors never read the tabloids.
  • TweetingTooHard.com – this is sort of like Texts From Last Night minus all the drunk skulduggery and adding a lot of self-aggrandizing obnoxiousness. Tops now is “fan belt light came on in the 911 so now I’m driving the Cayenne Turbo S – the backup, backup car. Trying not to think about the Tesla…” That’s pretty bad.
  • Truth Tweet attempts to verify celebrity Twitter accounts, using all sorts of sources to do so. Extremely useful for my purposes (e.g. nerdily making lists of what signals celebrity “authenticity” on Twitter).

Women of Silicon Valley and Sleeping Your Way to the Top

Owen from Valleywag posted a charming article claiming that Pownce founder Leah Culver slept her way to the top.

If she’s sincere about avoiding fame, Culver will have to reform more than her work life. Granted, San Francisco’s pool of straight men is on the small side. But besides Burka and Fitzpatrick, Culver also dated Cal Henderson, an engineering director at Flickr; MG Siegler, a writer at tech blog VentureBeat; and Nick Douglas, a former editor at Valleywag and Gawker. If she doesn’t want to be famous, Culver might want to take a look at her relentless technosexuality, which more than hints at the acquisition of influence rather than intimacy as its goal.

The misogyny of this article is obvious; I don’t think I need to point out that the men of Silicon Valley/Web 2.0 serial date as much as the women. Since there are fewer women in power in tech than men, this is not usually seen as a way to get ahead. I suppose since it’s no longer considered OK to smear women for having sex lives, Valleywag had to come up with something else to salaciously comment on, namely, this claim that she slept her way to the top.

I think it’s interesting that I hear, over and over again (from women in tech), that there is no sexism in tech, that women in tech have no feminist agenda, and that they want to be judged on their accomplishments. Unfortunately, women are judged on their looks, their sexuality, and their male partners in a way that men are just not, in Silicon Valley as they are in “regular life.” For example, the vitriol directed at, say, Julia Allison is completely disproportional to her actual impact on the technology scene. There are plenty of fame-seeking men in SV, but they don’t get nasty comments on their body and their looks every time they post a narcissistic Twitter.

Full disclosure is that I know everyone involved in this article through my dissertation research (and I think the accusations against Leah are ridiculous).

ROFLCON Talk Notes

As promised, here are my notes from my ROFLCON keynote. (lo-fi .txt version).

You can see a sneak preview of part of the talk here:

I may or may not upload the deck – it’s enormous, most of the pictures aren’t credited (which isn’t very fair to the creators) and I think the talk stands fine alone, as the deck mostly just added humor for the audience. Enjoy!

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