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Patrick McManus | Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Twitter is one of the most popular websites on the planet, a social network and micro-blogging platform that has 200 million users. Many people who claim Twitter is stupid cite the fact that they do not care what you are doing at any given time, and there is some merit in that argument. But famous people also use Twitter, and Americans enjoy few things more than knowing what famous people are doing.

It is hard to know exactly how many celebrities are on Twitter, what with fake accounts and how one defines “celebrity.” By one count, there are 258 celebrities on Twitter. Many of those accounts are not very active, however, and many more are British television personalities that no one is really interested in.

Twitter offers unprecedented opportunities for famous people to communicate with the general public, but how do they take advantage of those opportunities?

Of course, it varies depending on who you follow. Some celebrities like to go on long political rants flouting the 140-character limit. They tweet many times in quick succession, clogging the timeline of anyone unfortunate enough to be following them. Archetypical example of this type of tweeting: Alec Baldwin. I followed him because “30 Rock” and “The Departed” are awesome, not because I care what he thinks about Troy Davis or protests in New York.

If a celebrity is passionate about a cause, it is fine to express that and direct followers to where they can donate or something. Ashton Kutcher — a must-follow for anyone who wants to consider themselves hip — embodies that kind of Internet altruism, but the political rants of Mr. Baldwin are not appreciated. Baldwin is notable, though, for responding frequently when followers tweet at him with questions, which is probably why I still follow him.

Other celebrities tweet only when they have something to promote, like Louis C.K. He is an extremely funny stand-up comedian, but you wouldn’t know it from anything he tweets. It’s only worth following him if you really want to be informed about when he is on TV or where he is doing stand up. Another example is Karl Rove. Rove is notable for following me back after I followed him, but all he ever seems to tweet is when he is appearing as a talking head on some cable news show, which happens frequently. It’s fine to inform fans when you are doing stuff, they want to know, but these celebrities must realize that Twitter is more than a bulletin board. It is, more than anything, a source of perpetual entertainment.

Then there are the celebrities who are a lot of fun to follow because they tweet about really cool things. Following Aziz Ansari, you get a sense of his love for food, his crazy friends and whatever movie he happens to be watching. Neal Brennan, the co-creator of “Chappelle’s Show,” tweets hilarious one-liners multiple times a day. Conan O’Brien, Steve Martin and Stephen Colbert all frequently have silly things to say, which is refreshing and why we like those people.

The most Twitter-savvy celebrity of all though has to be Jimmy Fallon. His tweets are representative of the unrestrained joy and awesomeness that make him a much better late night host than SNL cast member. He often mentions how cool it is hanging out with the bands that come on his show. Sometimes he gives a taste of the night’s monologue, but mainly you can tell he is just keeping it real.

The reason Mr. Fallon takes first prize though is his integration of Twitter into his show. He asks his followers to tweet something funny around a certain hashtag he thinks up, and then he reads the best on his show. It’s like “The New Yorker” cartoon caption contest for the 21st century (it is also worth it to follow “The New Yorker” for links to hilarious and insightful articles).

Honorable mention in the celebrity Twitter popularity contest goes to Taylor Swift, whose tweets often seem like she is pandering to the crowds at her concert that night. She endears herself to her followers with tweets like, “Was watching SharkWeek and almost called @abiander to talk about how scary sharks are then got this overwhelming fear that they can hear me.”

Those are a few of the broad classifications of celebrity Twitter users, but a more extensive taxonomy still needs to be done and the denizens of the internet would be well served by a comprehensive list of the best celebrities to follow.

Contact Patrick McManus at pmcmanu1@nd.edu