Years from now, [artist id=”1961441″]Chris Brown’s[/artist] decision to delete his Twitter account might serve as an example of the moment the micro-blogging service began to eat its own tail. After being touted as a revolutionary means for artists to stay in touch with fans and update their thousands (and, in some cases, million or more) followers on their every move, Brown’s epic Twittercide provided proof that sometimes you can have too much of a good thing.
Brown signed off of Twitter unexpectedly on Monday, following a weekend of expletive-spiked posts against music retailers and a music industry he alleged was “blackballing” him and under-promoting his new album, Graffiti.
Less than a day after alleging that a particular Walmart in Connecticut was not stocking his disc — claims that were denied by a store employee who said that location was merely sold-out of the disc, and which were refuted in a statement from a company spokesperson who verified the employee’s comments — Brown’s account suddenly went dark on Monday afternoon.
A short while later, the singer posted his final missive on @MechanicalDummy, “I WANNA THANK MY FANS FOR ALL THE SUPPORT. I LOVE YALL. GOODBYE!!!!!!!!!!!!” And that was it.
Robert Thompson, founding director of the Bleier Center for Television and Popular Culture at Syracuse University, has been studying the effects of Twitter on celebrities and politicians and he said the mixture can sometimes be toxic.
“The whole point of Twitter and what makes it so appealing is that it is unfiltered and immediate,” he said. “It hasn’t gone through that vetting or editorial process, and most tweets haven’t even gone through a thought process, so what you get is just whatever is spilling through someone’s id.”
Without publicists, managers or handlers to sift through these thoughts, Thompson said there is a much higher chance that even an artist with a carefully cultivated, calculated public image will say something that will get them in trouble. “That’s what makes Twitter one of the most dangerous games to be playing,” he said. “Things spill out that are spontaneous and immediate and without that vetting process there’s a good chance of saying something really stupid.”
Brown’s shutdown put an end to a turbulent Twitter ride for the 20-year-old singer, who is working to revive his career after pleading guilty in June to felony assault in connection with his attack on former girlfriend Rihanna in February. While Brown was met with some skepticism during numerous attempts at public apologies in televised interviews that even he admitted were sometimes over-rehearsed, the singer expressed more raw emotions in his tweets.
He recently had to explain himself after it appeared that he called Jay-Z “corny” — which he denied, explaining that he was referring to a friend in the room watching the AMAs with him, not Jigga — and drew some raised eyebrows when he posted a sentimental fan-created video in October that showed him and Rihanna during better times .
Brown mostly used Twitter to promote his new album and videos, but he also re-tweeted messages of support from his fans and, occasionally, lashed out at those who used the account to denigrate him. In one of his final tweets over the weekend, Brown slammed “people who r constantly tweeting me wit bulls—,” quickly apologizing to his young fans for “all the cursing.” A label spokesperson for Brown had no comment for this story.
He’s just the latest celebrity to burn out on Twitter. Miley Cyrus bailed in October, explaining in a rap video that she was pulling out to retake some semblance of privacy in her life. (Lil Wayne also jumped ship around June of this year, followed in July by Nine Inch Nails’ Trent Reznor, who had actually quit a month earlier with the final tweet, “Idiots rule.” He came back, though, to explain that around the time of his engagement, a “faction of troublemakers” began harassing and insulting him and the energy it took to fend off their tweets was simply a waste of his time. (In October, Kid Cudi also split, ditching all his online accounts after he said a string of impersonators began posing as him on Twitter and Facebook.
Most surprisingly, the verbose Courtney Love also stopped tweeting this fall, not long after she unleashed a verbal smackdown on a fashion designer, around the same time another type-happy blogger, Lily Allen jumped ship amid one of her episodic retreats from public life.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton deleted her account in October, Vice President Joseph Biden hasn’t posted anything since August 13 and after a cleavage-gate incident, Meghan McCain briefly threatened to quit in October, but then reconsidered a short time later. Despite its ubiquity and popularity, Nielsen Online announced in August that 60 percent of U.S. Twitter users fail to return to the site a month after signing up.
Thompson said he wasn’t sure the Brown defection was necessarily a tipping point in Twitter’s popularity among celebs — it’s hard to imagine John Mayer giving up his oversharing anytime soon — but he did think that after the initial blush of infatuation with the service, users are starting to better understand how it can be useful and its pitfalls.
“With the exception of Paula Abdul announcing she’s not coming back to ‘American Idol,’ or some links to articles, I’ve found 99.9 percent of tweets to be pretty meaningless.”