Strange But True: Style changes can reveal phony tweets

You can tell if a favorite celebrity has a ghost tweeter and has been taken over by a publicist when the feed goes from a natural, informal voice to a more formal one.

BILL SONES AND RICH SONES, PH.D. For The Oklahoman strangetrue@cs.com Modified: May 1, 2012 at 10:47 am •  Published: May 1, 2012
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You can tell if a favorite celebrity has a ghost tweeter and has been taken over by a publicist when the feed goes from a natural, informal voice to a more formal one.

Q. When is there not a ghost of a chance that the tweets coming your way are authentic?

A. When you're reading tweets from celebrities who hire ghost tweeters to handle their image-making with the public, says Erin Biba in "Wired" magazine. Of the 250 million posts published every day, many are indeed by hired professionals. In our social-media-obsessed culture, capturing the most followers can be a "blood sport," costing celebrities both money and reputation. So ghost writers and impersonators become a natural part of the game.

Enter ghost writer Annie Colbert, who has stood in at the keyboard for Hollywood starlets, sports icons, authors and tech biggies like former Apple chief venture capitalist Guy Kawasaki. Everything put out there is generated by them or their team. For careful Twitter management, they plan the entire week and then post throughout, identifying people to be followed and responded to. Colbert herself will take time to study clients' previous tweets to capture their style: Do they use emoticons with a nose? Do they abbreviate certain words? These are key tip-offs.

So how can you tell if a favorite celebrity has a ghost tweeter? In a word, Colbert answers, when the feed goes from a natural informal voice to a more formal one, you can assume that it's been taken over by a publicist.

Q. Why can coffee that is hot enough to burn someone be sipped without harm? Why is eating hot pizza more likely to burn the mouth than eating hot soup?

A. The danger of a burn obviously depends on the temperature and amount of food, how well the food can transfer thermal energy and how long it stays in contact with the mouth, answers Jearl Walker in "The Flying Circus of Physics." A sip of coffee puts only a small amount of liquid in contact for only a short time, and sipping mixes in air and breaks the liquid up into drops with little thermal energy. A coffee spill is another matter altogether: Here a fairly large amount of hot liquid will be held by clothing for long enough to burn the skin.

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