Chris Brown launched into a Twitter temper tantrum over Thanksgiving weekend, engaging in an expletive-filled back-and-forth argument with comedian Jenny Johnson. Brown has since deactivated his account, but his actions have cast him as a poster boy for the modern tweet-first think-later artist.
Of course, picking fights on Twitter isn't new to Brown, whose history of outbursts isn't restricted to the Internet. In fact, Johnson's referring to his 2009 felony assault on on-again, off-again girlfriend Rihanna seemed to have set off the Grammy winner. At one point, Brown's threats involved the bizarrely specific request to defecate "right on your retina," not long after Johnson mocked a picture Brown posted of himself noting that he looked "old" for 23.
"Twitter ain't done nothing but give me trouble," Brown told MTV News' Sway Calloway in 2009. "It's just an outlet to me to talk to my fans directly. People who actually support me and want to know who I am, I get a chance to talk to them. I say little things on there sometimes that might be funny. Sometimes I might be arguing on there. Like, somebody might say something and I might say something back."
The aftermath of this latest Twitter controversy has Brown facing a wave of negative publicity. But to even begin to understand why the singer continues to be his own worst enemy online, it's important to note that the micro-blogging site thrives not just on the quick spread of information but on its users' willingness to tweet quickly — as much on instinct as careful thought. While most users don't have the same global profile as Brown, he's not alone in being a musician who has fallen foul of the inappropriate tweet.
Get some help. Seriously. RT @chrisbrown: Just ask Rihanna if she mad??????— Jenny Johnson (@JennyJohnsonHi5) November 26, 2012
Rappers Asher Roth and Kreayshawn were both lambasted over tweets that were interpreted as being racially offensive: Roth attempted to riff on Don Imus' "nappy-headed hoes" comment while the Bay Area MC was accused of using the word "n---a," though she claimed to have been quoting the rapper D.M.X. More recently, Chicago's gangsta rapper prince-in-waiting, Chief Keef, appeared to mock the murder of 18-year-old rapper Lil JoJo via his Twitter account, a move that brought police attention to his doorstep. (Keef, 17, also saw his Instagram account disabled after posting a picture of a girl performing a sexual act on him while he clutched a handful of dollars.)
A misguided tweet might not be something an artists' record label can control. Roderick Scott, a publicist at Warner Bros. Records, told us, "While we offer media training for best traditional and social media practices, it is up to the artist's discretion to what they post on their own networks." He added, "We can lead a horse to water but can't make them drink."
But the idea of encouraging an artist to carefully consider what they post might not even be a goal for those involved with promoting the artist. Another publicist at a major label (who declined to be named) said that Twitter is an artist's "voice and direct connection to their fan," and that "fans know what is genuine these days, and creating a false voice doesn't really aid the artists in the long run."
Michelle McDevitt, president of the Brooklyn-based Audible Treats PR firm, formerly represented Kreayshawn and agrees with the benefit of an artist's authentic voice. Asked how she'd advise Brown, she said that in private, she'd tell him to continue with an anger-management program but that "if he's truly unapologetic, I'd leave it as is [and] not even issue an apology." She explained, "I hate when an artist messes up and makes some cowardly ass excuse."
This is a view shared by Alexandra Bianchi, manager of digital marketing at Island Def Jam, who had simple advice for Brown: "Do not engage!"
Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the nonprofit Media Psychology Research Center, said that in the case of celebrities like Brown, there's pressure from fans to "maintain a social front of coolness and hipness," which causes them to tweet things they might not normally say.
"[He] appeared more concerned with putting down Johnson than with maintaining his image, or, perhaps protecting his image involved vulgarly putting down Johnson," Rutledge surmised to MTV News. "Without knowing Brown, who's to know? We do know, however, that impulse control may not be one of his signature strengths, based on the very public abuse of Rihanna," Rutledge said, referring to any number of impulse control disorders, in which someone is unable to avoid an urge that may harm themself or others.
Public image considerations have changed with the rise of social media, and there might soon be a further twist in the case of Twitter, according to Reggie Ossie, who runs "The Combat Jack" radio show and, in a former career, offered legal counsel to rap and R&B acts during the '90s. Though being active on Twitter is part of maintaining an artist's image, with it may soon come the rise of libel action against a slick-tweeting artist.
Ossie points out how cyberbullying has become "more punishable by law than regular bullying" and suggests that with "the amount of libel that takes place daily, I'm more than surprised that we haven't yet seen a boatload of legal suits. They're coming though, once cats on the receiving end wise up."
Should Chris Brown have quit Twitter after this latest incident? Let us know what you think in the comments below.