I’ve been on Twitter for 10 years now (@jtLOL), but it feels like about a hundred. I’m helplessly addicted to the social media service, and I start twitching and fiending like an addict if I go too long without that endorphin hit. “What’s going on right this second? Who’s been getting ‘dragged’ in the past 20 minutes? What jokes am I missing? What stupid and angry things did people say about me while I was away from an electronic screen for more than 90 seconds?” Etc., etc. Multiple times a day. It’s not good for me and I know it. If you’re not on Twitter, I would recommend never, ever starting. It’s like a DEA Schedule 1 drug, except it’s way more legal and way less fun.
But if you work in media, even way out on the periphery where I am, you kinda-sorta need to be on Twitter. News breaks there before anywhere else, and fake news gets debunked there before anywhere else. Hell, the president of the United States can make entire newsrooms across the world jump to attention just by sending a tweet. In 2018, Twitter is, sadly, indispensable.
One thing I’ve never really worried much about, though, is my follower count. It’s hovered right around 39,000 for as long as I can remember — although that doesn’t mean much, since the 24/7 news cycle has destroyed my long-term memory — and that seems like a good number. More than a few, less than a lot. Suits me just fine. There are some smart, funny, thoughtful people without many followers on Twitter, and there are some real knuckleheads with tons of followers. (Hi, @JimmyKimmel.) It doesn’t mean anything one way or another. The way I see it, if those swine don’t want my pearls, it’s their loss.
So, when the NYT ran a big story last week about celebrities and pseudo-celebrities buying fake Twitter followers to seem more popular than they really are, more than anything else I was embarrassed for those people. Why do they care? Does anybody really say, “That guy’s a dumb jerk, but he must be doing something right if he’s got that many Twitter followers”?
And I was astonished that the Chicago Sun-Times suspended Richard Roeper for buying Twitter followers. The paper doesn’t have any policy against it, and I don’t see how it affects the quality of his work one way or the other. But the paper now says:
We took these steps because, in addition to our expectation of professional accuracy, authenticity is particularly important to the profession of journalism.
Journalism has a lot of problems these days, but I really don’t think “Richard Roeper buying fake Twitter followers” is one of them.
If I were Roeper, I’d be really embarrassed about it. But I really don’t think it should’ve put his job in jeopardy. The Sun-Times made him delete his old account and set up a new one (@RichardERoeper), which seems pointless.
Artificially inflating your Twitter follower count is like, I dunno, a bald guy wearing a hairpiece or a woman getting a tummy tuck. It’s cosmetic. It makes you feel better about yourself, and you’d prefer if everybody thought it was all 100 percent natural. It doesn’t make you a better person, but it doesn’t necessarily make you a worse one either. Getting caught doing it must be mortifying, but is it really an ethical violation?
Twitter is dumb and annoying and maddening and also a lot of fun, and I hate it and I love it, and in my opinion, Roeper didn’t do anything wrong. I’m not a fan of his reviews, frankly, but that wouldn’t change one way or the other if he had 12 Twitter followers or 12 million. I don’t see how publicly humiliating him like this helps him, the Sun-Times, or anybody else.
Leave Richard Roeper alone!
P.S. I don’t know how accurate TwitterAudit.com is, but according to it my followers are 96 percent real. I assume the remaining 4 percent are part of a Russian plot.