My highly tuned social media sensibility tells me that I probably should have written about the Outlook cover story on Twitter’s social media stars back when it was still hot. Then, even if this post were a flaming pile of Manu Singhvi doo doo it would still have mustered some RTs and Firstpost would have published it. Now however I’m forced to use platitudes like “distance allows us an unbiased and more objective vantage point from which to talk about an issue” to cover for what was essentially my inherent laziness.
For those living under a rock however (or those who have better taste in magazines here goes any chance I might have had to write for Outlook. Hey India Today, I’m waiting naked underneath my silk sheets hoping you come and take me)) Outlook decided to do a blindingly original cover story on “The real stars of Twitter”. This story was so spectacular the Columbia School of Journalism has already deputed faculty to create a case study on how the media can destroy the façade of a nations elite intellectualism in four pages. Once the story broke people did the usual pimping on every social network while maintaining an air of humility, bitching out nutritionists and crying as if Rajeev Shukla finally wore a suit that fit.
But here’s the conundrum while talking about a story such as this. If someone like me, who gets put on a lot of Twitter lists (including this one) says anything even remotely bad about pieces like this we come across as ungrateful hacks. On the other hand, if someone who hasn’t been featured on the list says anything negative about these lists, they’re automatically classified as jealous for not having been made part of the list. Even if one genuinely believes that these lists aren’t important – and they aren’t - they’re branded as trying to fake humility because they don’t want to come across as douchebags. There is really no other way to react than by ignoring it and moving on.
Why am I not a big fan of these Twitter lists? Again, no hatred towards Outlook who devised a great way to be relevant again by writing this story in a week we discovered our Army ran out of tank shells – but every publication has done it. So much so that Twitter itself seems to have become an uninspired story idea that every new intern that joins a publication seems to suggest. The result is the same 20 names being perpetuated over and over again – so much so that an individual’s entire identity seems to be shaped by a handle. Personally speaking, Twitter has been great for me in terms of connecting with people I would never have met otherwise and being able to sell shows and ideas such as All India Bakchod (Flipside of having a lot of followers is you can’t follow random cute women just because they’re cute and have to justify their inclusion in your follow list by terms such as “interesting worldview”). However, the appropriation of an individual’s digital identity into a constantly perpetuating one-dimensional three-line bio is why I don’t like these lists. In true Twitter fashion, it allows no scope for depth – and you realize that you’re just another name helping fulfill the journalist’s word count. In one of the recent interviews I gave for another publication’s Twitter power list, the journalist was just happy that I said Twitter doesn’t matter in the long run because 20,000 people tracking your opinion in a country of 1.2 billion people is pointless. Again, happy purely to find a “different” peg to a Twitter story beyond the usual “How does it feel to be a Twitter celebrity?”
The reason I think the Outlook story was blown out of proportion compared to other Twitter lists is mostly because they put individuals on the cover. Everyone seems to be okay with Twitter lists filling the inside pages but the cover seems to have pissed people off. Again, I see no reason why. If people were angry because someone didn’t deserve to be put on a magazine cover, remember when Time magazine nominated “You” as person of the year and shoved a mirror on the cover? From a mere ambition point of view, if I was to make it to a magazine cover the last thing I would want as a reason would be “popular tweeter”. However, the hate against those who were on the cover seemed rather unjustified. Or maybe that’s just how Indians are – because it is similar to the hate one gets as a stand-up comedian for “taking over Twitter”. One would imagine people would celebrate the growth of an entirely new art from in front of their eyes and work with people who are forging it, but not so.
I’m sure Outlook will not be the last magazine to do a story on the real stars of Twitter. Another social network will come along and the news media will get their readymade story ideas and daily opinion fix from there too. In the meanwhile, if you still want to get onto one of these Twitter lists, follow these instructions.