Really, Anil Dash is not telling you this to puff himself up or anything:
I’ve got more Twitter followers than you. I’ve got more Twitter followers than Ted Cruz, and I’m only a little bit behind Björk. If my followers were a state, we’d be creeping up on Wyoming in terms of population. Having half a million followers on Twitter is a genuinely bizarre experience, especially considering I’m just a random tech nerd on the Internet and not an actual famous person.
Anyone whose name I recognize on sight is not, I submit, “just a random tech nerd.” Dash was VP of Six Apart, whose Movable Type product used to power this very site and several zillion others back in the day.
He insists that he didn’t do anything to merit this large following:
Somewhere around half of my followers are only there because I was included on the “Suggested User List”, a now-retired feature that used to recommend people to follow when you joined the service.
Basically, somebody who worked at Twitter back in 2009 added me to that list, and all of a sudden my online network got upgraded to the kind of numbers that are usually only reserved for rock stars. It doesn’t bother me that I didn’t end up with a ton of followers online because of any merit of my own; these things are always arbitrary. But in addition to getting onto that one weird list, I picked up a lot of my real followers simply by being early to Twitter. That’s a tactic that definitely helps you get more followers, and I’d strongly recommend joining Twitter in 2006 if you have the option. #helpfuladvice
Now he tells me. (I signed up in 2009.)
And a lot of those 550,000 followers — I looked — want something, and often that something is this:
“Hey, can you get me verified?” A variation on wanting attention or amplification for one’s work are the young folks (and they’re invariably under 25 years old) who very insistently plead for me to help them get a verified checkmark. Of course, I have no say in who gets verified, and I don’t even really understand the criteria by which the networks choose whom to bestow their blessing upon. But more importantly the checkmark doesn’t do anything! It’s the most clear case of star-bellied sneetches I’ve yet been able to find in adulthood, but this fact does nothing to temper the deep conviction of some that getting a blue checkmark on their Twitter or Facebook account would change their lives. Sometimes I want to email these people and ask how they think a few blue pixels on their Twitter account could have this kind of impact, but I haven’t yet figured out a way to do that without revealing what a complete asshole I am.
And this is the part we’re overlooking:
The fact is, online celebrity is just a simple reflection of the existing networks of privilege that confer benefits on people in every other realm of life.
In my particular case, being picked as a suggested user on Twitter changed the trajectory of my online life, but how is having a friend who was an early Twitter employee any different from the Old Boys’ Club? It ain’t.
Like Americans near the poverty line who don’t realize that on the global scale they’re downright wealthy, Twitter users with more modest accounts don’t realize how much reach they might actually have:
In comparative terms, almost nobody on Twitter is somebody: the median Twitter account has a single follower. Among the much smaller subset of accounts that have posted in the last 30 days, the median account has just 61 followers. If you’ve got a thousand followers, you’re at the 96th percentile of active Twitter users.
That’s me: the 96th-percentile guy. I don’t much care that I’m not verified or that I don’t have a following the size of Wyoming; my overall goal is to keep myself from thinking that I’m some sort of big deal. And regarding that Ted Cruz remark: during much of 2012, Rebecca Black had more Twitter followers than Mitt Romney.
(Via Michele Catalano, a civil servant who has 60 percent more followers than Anil Dash.)