Don't I Know You? How Twitter Makes People Familiar

Twitter is a virtual cocktail party where the famous mix with the anonymous.

Posted May 29, 2018

Those of you who grew up with old-school television sets where you actually had to get up to change the channel only got to see your favorite celebrities once a day, when you invited them into your living rooms to deliver the evening news on TV. You looked forward to seeing them, and probably felt like you knew them. And especially if you grew up in a small town, spotting them at the grocery store was like running into a member of your family.

Today, you can “see” your favorite news and media celebrities anytime you like. They are far more visible — and more accessible, 24/ 7.  

Only a Tweet Away: Celebrity Connection

Researchers Kim and Song note that social media is a form of communication that is used with increasing frequency by everyone from pop stars to politicians.[i]They point out that it differs from traditional media outlets, however, because it is direct, personal, and unfiltered. 

In a 2016 study, Kim and Song found that celebrities who share personal details on Twitter can foster a sense of intimacy with their fans and followers. They explain that increased social presence stems from celebrities sharing details of both their professional and personal lives, and fans retweeting.

Social media facilitates exactly that type of interaction — the famous mixing freely with the anonymous — many of who can relate to the personal experiences of the famous. Regarding such celebrity-fan identification, Click et al. (2013) note that Lady Gaga cultivated rapport with her fans through social media, touching the hearts and minds of strangers who were moved by her expressions of self-acceptance.[ii]  

Not only fans benefit from virtual relationships.  Research reveals that Twitter usage provides satisfaction for both the fan and the celebrity.

A Virtual Cocktail Party Where the Anonymous Rub Elbows With the Famous

Stever and Lawson (2013) examined celebrity use of Twitter as a way to communicate with fans.[iii]They acknowledged that although Twitter provided a way for fans to communicate directly with their favorite celebrity, such access was limited. They concluded that even if a fan occasionally received a reply from his or her favorite star, the Twitter relationship is still parasocial, a type of interaction defined as “the unreciprocated interaction between individuals of differing status and knowledge of one another.” 

On the part of the famous tweeters, Stever and Lawson found that celebrities used Twitter to talk about their work as well as their personal lives.  Similar to other users, they shared likes and dislikes, including information about personal activities of the type that are not typically shared in other settings.  In addition, their research showed that celebrity tweeters engaged in dialog that was meaningful, serious, and impactful.

A Virtual Candidate Conversation

Politicians similarly benefit from Twitter-facilitated familiarity. Research by Sanne Kruikemeier (2014) explains that Twitter allows candidates to communicate directly with voters, without journalistic interference. She notes that Twitter is a way for candidates to talk about their personal lives as well as their professional lives, sharing thoughts and emotions as well as professional activities.[iv]

A study by Lee and Shin (2014) explained how exposure to the Twitter page of a high profile politician impacted people's perceptions of having direct conversations with the politician, which heightened their intention to vote for him, among people with high transportability — the tendency to become absorbed (transported) into a story.[v] 

However, not all cases of familiarity breed contentment. Some research found that personalized Twitter messages increased the perception of intimacy with a political candidate only among people who were more affiliative.[vi]  

Connectivity Breeds Familiarity

As a career prosecutor, I have, of course, prosecuted plenty of stalking cases that arise from the obsession of friends, fans, and followers-turned-cyberstalkers. But for the scores of healthy, law-abiding Twitter users, spirited interaction facilitates conversation and camaraderie.

Uniquely distinct from other social media platforms, Twitter demonstrates how visibility and accessibility breed familiarity. Twitter fosters a sense of connection among users — from the famous, to the infamous, to the anonymous. 


[i]Jihyun Kim and Hayeon Song, “Celebrity's self-disclosure on Twitter and parasocial relationships: A mediating role of social presence,” Computers in Human Behavior, Vol. 62 (2016): 570-577.

[ii]Melissa A. Click, Hyunji Lee, and Holly Willson Holladay, “Making Monsters: Lady Gaga, Fan Identification, and Social Media,” Popular Music and Society Vol. 36, No. 3, (2013): 360–379.

[iii]Gayle S. Stever and Kevin Lawson, “Twitter as a Way for Celebrities to Communicate with Fans: Implications for the Study of Parasocial Interaction,” North American Journal of Psychology; Winter Garden Vol. 15, Iss. 2,  (2013): 339-354.

[iv]Sanne Kruikemeier, ”How political candidates use Twitter and the impact on votes,” Computers in Human Behavior Vol. 34 (2014): 131-139.

[v]Eun-Ju Lee and Soo Yun Shin, ”When the Medium is the Message: Transportability Moderates the Effects of Politicians' Twitter Communication,” Communication Research Vol. 41, No. 8 (2014): 1088-1110 (1090) (citing Binber and Davis, 2003).