Twitter, Take The Reigns
For most of us, the end of August sees a lull in activity as summer ties up its loose ends, yet for Lana del Rey the last couple of weeks have been anything but quiet. The ethereal vocalist made headlines for her controversial decision to perform at Israel’s Meteor Festival this September. She then made headlines once again for her doubly controversial decision to cancel her appearance, after receiving major backlash from fans, casual listeners and general commentators.
Much of the criticism she faced came from Twitter users, who not only shared tweets and detailed articles criticising del Rey, but they also turned her justification for performing in Tel Aviv into a meme. Her tweet, claiming her good intentions and energy could “shift the energetic vibration of a location for the higher good” - a statement which offended the diaspora of Palestinian refugees who saw her bizare statement as arrogant, misinformed and, above all, a reflection of her privilege.
The singer has since penned an extensive explanation to her almost 9 million followers, following her decision to drop out of the festival, detailing her beliefs that “performing in Tel Aviv is not a political statement or a commitment to the politics there”. She followed this with a recognition of the importance of performing “in both Palestine and Israel and treat[ing] all [her] fans equally”. While her dedicated five tweets to the issue - significant since she only has a total of 78 tweets - and deleting the original “energetic vibration” tweet have not managed to win back fans who were disappointed by her initial decision to perform in Israel. This incident has proved once again the power of direct engagement on social media platforms.
There is no doubt now that twitter has revolutionised the way in which prominent members of society can communicate with their audience. The Lana-Israel controversy played out so publicly that it was easy to correlate the strength of the impassioned response against her with the chronology of her actions. Even now as the anti-BDS brigade has come out against her decision to withdraw - again, on twitter - claiming she has been lied to, she has succumbed to a group that seeks to “ostracise Israelis and delegitimize even non-Israeli supporters of the state”and even calling her anti semitic, it will come as little surprise when she announces an eventual show in Israel, with perhaps a small concession made to Palestinian fans, in order to maintain her supposed commitment to ‘equality’.
This is not the first time that uproar on the second most popular social media platform in the UK has resulted in a complete U-turn from the public personality at its heart. Alfie Deyes, also known by his channel name, PointlessBlogVlogs, received a very similar response to del Rey from outraged fans after his ‘Living on £1 in 24 hours challenge’ video.
The premise of the video was to live off a pound for the entire day but it quickly turned into a way for the youtube millionaire to list all the usual privileges he enjoys but had to abstain from - such as drinking from a filtered water tap in his £1.7m mansion- for the purpose of the challenge. His distasteful video has had him criticised for being ‘spoilt’ and ‘tone-deaf’ among other things, and following a torrent of infuriated criticism, much of which likened him to the cliched wealthy conservative voter, he first changed the title of the video, then subsequently deleted it from his channel and posted an apology video.
Each attempt to rectify his behaviour was continuously met with more anger from the engaged Twitter audience, which was followed by further attempts to repair his reputation - Alfie strongly asserted ‘I am not a Tory - proving the sheer power of a platform on which a public audience has a direct influence on the products (in this case, online content) they consume. The impact of a bad decision, such as the one Deyes made when he originally posted the video, can be long-lasting thus public figures, are kept very much at the will of an explosive market which can broadcast its disapproval to hundreds or thousands of people at the tap of a button.
While Twitter users’ ability to mobilise has been detrimental to entertainers and politicians alike, some brands have found ways to capitalize on the short but continuous cycles of frenzy that grasps them as they process controversial information constantly. Nike is a prime example. After news broke of the French Open’s decision to ban Serena Williams from wearing her ‘catsuit’which she adopted to protect against blood clots following a near-death experience giving birth to her daughter, Olympia.
Nike reacted by publishing an image of Williams in the suit on its twitter account with the text: ‘You can take the superhero out of her costume, but you can never take away her superpowers.'. An act of support for Williams’ choice of dress, but also a way to catch the attention from a platform which thrives off controversy. Suddenly, everyone who had been sharing their peers’ tweets in favour of the world-class tennis champion, was sharing Nike’s image and applauding them for being on the ‘right’ side of history.
It is arguably the same circumstance with Nike’s Colin Kaepernick-featured advert.Nike saw a national contention that had engaged people globally, and an opportunity to attach its name to such a widely discussed issue, thus capitalising on the exposure. Naturally, there was backlash to this decision however it seems Nike has hedged its bets with the pro-kneel faction of the issue once again showing how opinions and debates are on twitter.
Essentially, Nike succeeded in the commercialisation of rage and social movements. And unlike Lana and Alfie, Nike has quickly used the ability to directly engage with its audience and their broader interests to its own benefit, illustrating that while the consumer’s response can shape the product, tech-savvy marketers can ensure that twitter users are targeted even more vigorously for the brand’s own benefit.