Celebrities cant afford to log off social networks

New Delhi: Social networking forums like Twitter and Facebook have managed to burrow into popular culture but users- incuding celebrities- faced with issues of privacy, abuse and even social fatigue, seem to be logging off such online sites or even trading one for the other.

A case in point is Bollywood superstar Shah Rukh Khan who miffed with unsavory comments posted on his Twitter account had recently reportedly abandoned the microblogging site and his 8 lakh followers to move on to Facebook.

In the past too several Hollywood names like actor Miley Cyrus, singer-guitarist John Mayers etc were also seen to have shut down their Twitter accounts.

Technology experts, however say, despite random instances, celebrities cannot afford to remain isolated from networking sites which offer them a forum to publicise their works and connect with fans much more than conventional channels.

"With a few exceptions, celebrities continue to be active online and they take great pains to create and manage their image, directly influence media and share tidbits of events in their life with fans and followers," says Gaurav Mishra, director, digital and social media director of a leading strategic communications firm in Asia.

Section 67 of India`s Information Technology Act, 2000 specifically prohibits posting of obscene matters and provides imprisonment for a term extended to five years and with fine which may extend to Rs 1 lakh and subsequent offence with a punishment extending to 10 years and fine of Rs 2 lakh.

"The number of followers on Twitter is often seen as a measure of popularity of stars as well as politicians. We have had examples of some celebrity tweeters getting into uncomfortable situations due to their tweets ? the most talked about examples being the one from ex-IPL Commissioner Lalit Modi involving former Minister Shashi Tharoor," says CyberMedia research lead analyst for the communications practice, Naveen Mishra.

Though issues regarding privacy over social networking sites and instances of email and social networking profiles being breached, distorted or additional usually obscene matter being put on the profile are fairly common, celebrities are even more vulnerable to such acts, say legal experts.

"They usually have a wider network and also that people outside the said network also monitor the accounts. In addition, privacy in case of celebrities can also be breached through fake accounts," says Anuradha Salhotra, Managing Partner, Lall Lahiri & Sons.

"As a measure to protect them and probably to clearly identify a celebrity account, Twitter`s website provides the facility to users to determine which account with the name of a celebrity is real and which is fake. Action has been taken by many celebrities worldwide in the past for breach of security and breach of their privacy," points out Salhotra.

Apart from celebrities, politicians and companies have taken to connecting with fan followers, citizens and customers through such sites.

Increasingly in China, for example, celebrities are signing up for Sina Weibo, the Chinese equivalent of Twitter Entertainers such as actress Yao Chen have attracted as many as 5 million-plus followers.

While sometimes there is a drop in online activities due to "social fatigue" or when users have reportedly been troubled by nasty comments, such instances have seen to be just temporary.

Bollywood producer Karan Johar who had been reportedly instrumental in making his buddy Shah Rukh Khan take to twitter had posted on his site in September 2010.

"Am I sensing twitter fatigue? Has the herd mentality bug attacked twitterverse and now backtracking? Or is it just ME"?

He later posted "taking a twitter sabbatical..thank you for your love..your support and even your negativity!! Am motivated but need a break..love u all…" only to resurface after nearly two weeks to post about his film.

"Apparently Rakhtcharitra is not for people who liked K3G!! Didn`t know planet pluto had multiplexes!! Aliens can`t wait to see it!!"

Fans too have taken to log on to their favourite celebrity`s site to read firsthand accounts. Soon after reports of his death popstar Michael Jackson`s fans turned to twitter to express their grief.

Also, say experts since Twitter and other sites are largely unmediated, they serve as good venues for celebrities to clarify or refute whatever they said.

Five years after its inception, Twitter is now serving up an average of 140 million tweets per day, up from 50 million per day. Facebook too is growing by leaps and bounds and on the horizon, say technology experts is waiting a whole host of applications waiting for their chance in the sun.

"Miso and Glue are entertainment platforms that are catching the fancy of celebrities," says Gaurav Mishra. Such platforms give users interaction with their favourite shows enabling networks to reward viewers.

"Another trend catching up with celebrities is that of voice based microblogging. Bubble motion is one such company which has launched a voice-blogging social network built for the mobile phones, he points out.

Bollywood superstar Amitabh Bacchan who is an active blogger and owns a twitter account had last year launched a voice blog "Bachchan Bol" where fans could dial a specific number from their phones and hear the actor speak and even record their own voice comments.