It used to be one mic. But when it comes to beef, now, all you need is one tweet. For all that’s redeeming about Twitter—its ability to mobilize protesters and topple oppressive regimes—there’s one side effect to the social networking platform that’s worrisome: the desire for brand-building and social identity has sparked the need to protect one’s digital neck at all costs. From Ray Js’ and Fabolous’ tweet-fueled fisticuffs to the Basketball Wives soap-opera showdowns, stars are throwing down their phones and putting up real dukes to defend their LLC. But in the race for virtual bragging rights, there’s never a clear winner.
Whereas Web beefs were once contained to Photoshop wars and hackings, these aren’t just isolated fights. It’s a contagion spread through the riff-raff of gossip blogs and instigating fans. This summer, a WorldStarHipHop-bound flip cam captured Chris Brown’s alleged cohorts hounding Frank Ocean’s BMW, threatening the Odd Future crooner with chants of “Chase the fade!” (a.k.a. take the fight like a man). This, after Breezy tweeted via an iPad: “I fuck wit Frank Ocean! Reminds me of a young James Fauntleroy or Kevin Cossum.” One intended compliment led to both singers testing each other’s character limits, and could’ve ended violently if not for cooler heads. Soon after, Basketball Wives’ Jennifer Williams accused fellow castmate Royce Reed of the unthinkable: following her ex-husband on Twitter and sending him direct messages. The apparent slight resulted in a permanent standoff between the friends-turned-foes. Days later, Lloyd and Miguel almost came to blows in Cleveland over Miguel tweeting about Lloyd stealing his haircut.
It’s not as if stars are more sensitive than ever—thugs have always needed love. But celebs have the biggest egos of all, which Twitter only heightens. Few people put much thought into crafting a tweet, an environment in which every tap-tap typed can be misunderstood as a jab (See: Ciara’s and Rihanna’s catfight). And every jab has the potential to spiral into petty exchanges, provoking a team of handlers to deal with a star’s digital diarrhea. Plus, Twitter makes celebs instantly approachable, so entourages of Yes Men can no longer act as bulletproof shields. Fabolous can’t clown Ray J (“...Ray J singing “One Wish” on the piano had me in tears!!”) without potential physical repercussions.
Cyber bullies will be bullies. Watching tightly protected stars unravel can be wildly entertaining—backstage moments caught with the curtain up. We feel like we’re a part of the action. Still, for all the fans circling up for these schoolyard feuds, just remember: It’s all fun and games until someone loses an iPhone.