Vanity Fair on Twitter fame: Twembarrassing

A profile of some female power Twitter users in the influential culture magazine misses the point. Badly.

Caroline McCarthy Former Staff writer, CNET News
Caroline McCarthy, a CNET News staff writer, is a downtown Manhattanite happily addicted to social-media tools and restaurant blogs. Her pre-CNET resume includes interning at an IT security firm and brewing cappuccinos.
Caroline McCarthy
3 min read

Vanity Fair magazine, with its crisp and alluring takes on everything from international affairs to celebrity culture, is the sort of publication known for being current, relevant, and in the know.

If you believe Vanity Fair's take on it, female power users of Twitter have more in common with the movie 'Mean Girls' than with anything legitimately related to business. Paramount Pictures

Yet in its February issue--yes, the one with Tiger Woods on the cover--it managed to publish one of the silliest, most superficial, and most wildly out of touch articles about Twitter that I've ever read. Called "America's Tweethearts," it discusses the phenomenon of individuals (primarily attractive women) who have amassed notable amounts of Twitter fame, or "twilebrity." (Twilebrity? Barf.)

Accompanying the article, which makes liberal use of egregiously irritating Twitter terms ("tweeple," "Twitformation Superhighway") that were likely coined by folks who blog about "your personal brand" and hand out business cards etched with "Social Media Expert" at marketing conferences, is a stylized photograph of six female "Twilebrities" identified by name and follower count. I know a few of them personally and am familiar with the rest, and I can say that they all have reputations for working hard and really "getting" the power of Twitter marketing and conversation when many people still thought that the microblogging service had about as much lasting power as the pet rock.

But that doesn't matter. The point is that they're hot! And they're depicted wearing sassy little coats and heels, and holding smartphones!

You see, the icing (twicing?) on the cake is that the online version of the Vanity Fair article doesn't link to or even list the Twitter user names of any of the women profiled. We're left with nothing more than their airbrushed legs cascading out of trench coats and their perky, bite-sized quotes: "Now the tools for success have been democratized. It's just me and whoever wants to talk to me, wherever they are in the world." (UPDATE at 11:28 a.m. PT: Vanity Fair's Web site has added the Twitter links in question to the article.)

What's odd is that this piece of fluff was written by Vanessa Grigoriadis, a well-respected and talented journalist known in New York media circles for insightful and thorough celebrity profile pieces. It doesn't make sense for either Grigoriadis or Vanity Fair to be putting out something so completely off key. Twitter has proven to have legitimate value as a business and marketing vehicle, and its power users--including the women pictured and quoted in the article--are capable of a lot more than cutesy soundbites about "engagement" and catty jabs about how another popular Twitter user "has one-sided conversations, and that is completely frowned upon in our world. She's a self-promoter, and that's not social media." (PS: On Wednesdays, we wear pink.)

Here's a snippet:

But when it comes to listening, well, that's where these twilebrities shine. It so happens that they are nice girls--the Internet's equivalent of a telephone chat line staffed by a bunch of cheerleaders--and it's all free. Any tweep who wants to talk to them will likely get a reply to his tweets ("u r so funny!"). They may also re-tweet for you (that means referencing one of your droppings on their Twitter feed). They have been known to occasionally tweetdrop (that's subtly dropping the names of the truly famous into one's tweets, as in "Ashton LinkLove 4ever"). "Twitter is like going to a giant cocktail party, every day," says Sarah Evans, 29, a publicist and self-described "Twitterholic." "Except you don't ever have to get dressed up!"

Well, to be fair, I'm sure Evans could have put it a bit more eloquently. But, really, calling these women "a bunch of cheerleaders?" I'd like to think the whole thing is satire. I really, really would.