Paranoid's Corner: Does Twitter Semi-Censor to Protect Celebrities?

Paranoid's Corner: Does Twitter Semi-Censor to Protect Celebrities?

Paranoid's Corner: Does Twitter Semi-Censor to Protect Celebrities?

A mostly political weblog.
Oct. 28 2009 3:06 AM

Paranoid's Corner: Does Twitter Semi-Censor to Protect Celebrities?

Paranoia Strikes Tweet:

[UPDATED] After learning that CNN President Jon Klein had rejoined Twitter, I decided on Monday to post


for killing "Crossfire": 

@ JonKleinCNN You axed Crossfire, sucked up to Jon Stewart + MSM! Don't you wish you had Crossfire back now? Just askng!

To be honest, this was as nasty an item as I thought I could write and not come off like a total prick. Perhaps I failed at that last task. But it was also an experiment to see if nastiness pointed criticism worked on Twitter. Maybe there could be a productive, or at least entertaining, debate. 
A few hours later I checked to see if there was any response from Klein or one of his defenders. But my hostile twitter didn't show up in a search for "Jon Klein," or his twitter handle "JonKleinCNN." In fact it didn't seem to turn up in a search for any of the terms used in the item, like "MSM" or "Jon Stewart."
This morning, I did get a response from Klein , and the item briefly turned up in one of my searches, only to seemingly disappear again.** It hasn't vanished entirely--it's at least still in the list of items I've posted, and presumably in the general river of tweets that flows by everyone who "follows" me. It just doesn't turn up if you search for twitters about Jon Klein.

People tell me I shouldn't read a lot into this incident--twitter search engines are notoriously flaky--so I won't. But it did get me thinking. Why do the searches for "tweets" that mention various twitter celebrities-- Demi Moore and Ashton Kutcher, and Alyssa Milano, and even CEOs like Klein--almost invariably turn up such pleasant comments? Here's a search for @Jon KleinCNN.. With one or two relatively mild exceptions, it's a tame (and lame) series of attaboys, welcome-backs, and this-is-what-he-saids. Don't a few more people have criticism of Klein, or CNN, on the weekend it hit last place in the ratings ? Are twitterers that polite and deferential?

I mean, this is America. If you really opened up a line of communication where every horny 20-year old dude sitting on a couch in a basement typed 140 characters about Alyssa Milano for the world to see ... well, would you really want to see that stream of tweets? People would ... criticize her acting! They'd bring up her famous ex boyfriends. They'd say she looked bad in that dress and otherwise comment on her appearance. Perhaps approvingly! I'm keeping it clean here. But it wouldn't be pretty.

And yet it is . If you actually search for  @Alyssa Milano, this is the sort of thing you get:


Last night @AlyssaMilano asked: How do you want to be remembered in this life? I ask you, my followers, how do you want to be remembered?

Haha I saw @AlyssaMilano RT'd u. She's so chill...and hot too!

: @alyssamilano describe yourself in 3 words. Describe your husband in 3 words.

<----watching a rerun of @alyssamilano in who&apos;s the boss :)

You get the idea. Something doesn't add up. Does Twitter maybe censor  "curate" the search results for its celebrity Twitterers?
This thought would be too paranoid even for me, if I hadn't read Nicole LaPorte's article in The Daily Beast on how celebrity publicists have connections at Twitter HQ:

[V]irtually every publicist in Hollywood has a go-to person at Twitter—the equivalent these days of having an "in" with famed MGM publicity chiefs-cum-fixers Eddie Mannix and Howard Strickling during Hollywood’s Golden Age.

"We’ve had a relationship with Twitter for quite some time," said one. "We have contacts at most of the sites, so that they can help us out and give us quick tech support."

(Perhaps journalists are shown less love? Twitter did not respond to multiple requests for comment for this article.)

Hmmm. Questions:


Would it even be technically feasible to delete nasty items from searches? Having once met a top Twitter tech guy who seemed incredibly competent, I'd have to guess yes.

Why would Twitter want to sanitize celeb tweet searches? That one's easy: Celebrity Twitterers like Milano, Moore and Kutcher have been very important to Twitter's growth. They take care of Twitter. Twitter takes care of them. At least that would be the equation --a familar one to anyone who has ever tried to round up bold-faced names for a party. The job of actually weeding out hostile tweets could be delegated to the celebrity's "social media director." Or  the social media director's assistant. But presumably there are also Twitter staffers whose job is celebrity troubleshooting.

(Is Jon Klein such a celebrity? You might not think so--though he's listed as one . In this paranoid theory he might qualify under a Bigwigs-at-Media-Companies-Who-Might-Buy-Twitter-One Day loophole.)

It woudn't even be all that sinister--certainly less sinister than, say, the typical roped-off VIP section at a party. Web sites police comment sections all the time, after all. Alyssa Milano does talk with ordinary people on Twitter, and her twitstream or whatever you call it--which she seems to write herself--is quite informative on a fairly wide range of topics. When Obama threw out the first pitch at the All Star game, Milano's twitters gave a better account of where it landed than the Fox telecast, which had a bad camera angle..
On the other hand, if Twitter sanitized searches, that would make the site a more fake and less democratic place than it initially appears to be. Here we thought we were meeting bigshots in a virtual public square, and really it was maniuplated like the Truman Show .


Is my paranoid suspicion right? Anyone with answers--including people at Twitter--can tweet a response to @kausmickey or email me at Mickey underscore Kaus at MSN dot com.

Update: Responses on Twitter from Milano

Interesting. cc: @ ev RT @ kausmickey : Does Twitter protect celebrities? (via @ atomsareenough )

@ Alyssa_Milano I think that guy has a pretty dire outlook on humans. :) about 1 hour ago from web in reply to Alyssa_Milano

 Oracular! A non non-denial denial non-denial ...

Update II: Gawker ... a cartoon ...


**--An earlier anti-Klein tweet that I myself deleted does turn up on one site's search of "Jon Klein."   1:28 A.M.