Oliver Wright writes:
Humans have always been predisposed to gossip. French political philosopher Alexis de Tocqueville once said “If an American was condemned to confine his activity to his own affairs, he would be robbed of one half of his existence.” In this vein, celebrities such as Ashton Kutcher and Stephen Fry have done themselves no harm by revealing the minutiae of their day to day activities to the masses.
Celebrities, of course, usually have a slick PR machine on their side to ensure that potential pitfalls are avoided. The new wave of sports tweeters (twits, if you prefer), however, seem to lack this essential facility. Where the sporting media may have previously traded on snippets from a group of closely guarded sources, they can now rely upon a host of tweeters for a steady stream of bitesize stories.
These messages left on social networks and microblogging sites have the nasty habit of transforming tittle-tattle, hearsay, and rumour into cold, hard evidence – often supplied by the protagonist. Over the past couple of weeks, we’ve seen cyclist Lance Armstrong show his hot headed reactions to Alberto Contador’s comments on his teammates after the latter claimed the Tour de France’s yellow jersey. Also tweeting regularly (and with a little more restraint), was fellow cyclist Bradley Wiggins, who quashed media speculation regarding his team affiliations next year half way through the tour. After the tour’s epic climb up Mont Ventoux, he later paid tribute to Tom Simpson, a British rider who collapsed and died on the stage in 1967.
More recently, Australia’s Philip Hughes let slip that he had been dropped for the 3rd Ashes test due to start that morning – inadvertently informing anyone studious enough to notice of Australia’s batting line up, which they didn’t have to divulge until much later. Darren Bent also fell foul to his emotions on twitter (and later apologised), perhaps leading us to be thankful that most footballers’ 140-character musings are usually confined to the pitch.
Of course, sportsmen and women aren’t the only ones adapting to new media. As politicians have taken to using Twitter, Whitehall has released a rather lengthy guide for ministers thinking of using the service, no doubt in a spirit of public dialogue. Thanks heavens that British caution is not shared abroad.