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Has Twitter Become Part Of 21st Century Courtship?

What links Liz Hurley and Shane Warne, Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy, Kelsey Grammar and Eva Langoria?

Twitter. Specifically, using the platform to announce the end of their relationships in a very public way.

And in the case of Hurley and Warne, they even – gasp – used the service to openly flirt with each other. So, is this sort of behaviour the beginning of a new and meaningful trend, or simply another way for celebrities to generate those much-needed column inches?

Or both?

The BBC provides some analysis courtesy of Judi James, a “leading television expert in body language, social behaviour, image, workplace culture and communication skills”.

She compares the shared jokes and secretive codes to passing notes in school, where it does not really matter what is said because it is the act that bonds them together. This kind of behaviour leads to “cognitive confusion”.

“People’s behaviour can have the opposite effect to their goal – it’s like office romances, people say their partners must never know, but then they leave huge clues like e-mails everyone can access.

“It’s almost like sticking a banner on the wall. A psychologist would say subliminally they wanted to be found out.”

James goes on to compare the exchange of tweets as having a similarity to an older, more romantic (and some would say quaint) tradition – letters.

“It’s evolved from a form of communication that is deemed to be very romantic – the old-fashioned love letters of Victorians. Instead of being published after death, they can be shared in two seconds – with the whole world seeing their affection and love,” she says.

While the very famous can certainly leverage their exposure on Twitter to keep themselves in the public eye, these benefits aren’t quite so apparent for the rest of us.

One woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, says she was “utterly shocked” and “hugely hurt” when her former husband revealed they were getting divorced on Facebook.

“He’d put something along the lines of: ‘My wife has left me, I wasn’t good enough, isn’t that a shame’ on his Facebook wall. I hadn’t even thought about how I was going to tell my friends – but Facebook was definitely too public a forum for such an intimate and personal heartbreak.”

The woman, who was in her 20s at the time, says a mutual friend eventually persuaded her former husband to remove the post, and she puts it down to him feeling “utterly distraught, hurt and defensive”.

“I think he didn’t want to be seen as anything other than wronged party, but it was a massively inappropriate way of displaying feelings – these things can’t be explained in 140 words,” she says.

Sad (and confused) as this story is (there’s no 140-character limit on Facebook), ultimately I think this attitude will shift. Of course, people have been flirting by text messaging for over a decade now. That’s very private, of course, but the risk of exposure, of getting caught, has always been there – deep down, we all know that those messages can easily be seen by somebody else (on either side), and that every single one of them is sitting in a giant database somewhere, just waiting to be read out in court. That’s pretty heady stuff.

Perhaps Twitter takes the excitement of this risk to a new, voyeuristic level. Not only the risk of getting caught, but also being able to openly boast and show off about your relationships and conquests. And for a certain kind of person that can have enormous appeal.

And these individuals aren’t as isolated as you might expect – after all, why do you think your mother just signed up on Facebook?

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