HAJI MOHAMED DAWJEE: 1, 2, 3 Dial a Celebrity
The other day, while scrolling through Twitter, I noticed a weird thing – singer and songwriter Alicia Keys posted a story that merely said “text me: +1 (917) 970-2001”.
Huh? I thought? What is the world up to now? This must be some strange anomaly, I thought. A celebrity sharing her phone number in the age of cancel culture, dragging and troll? But it turns out, an oddity it is not.
New year, new number 💜 Text me +1 (917) 970-2001— Alicia Keys (@aliciakeys) January 8, 2020
Sharing mobile numbers is the latest trend in engaging with fans and apparently everyone is doing it. There are even several “Yellow Pages” type websites like Celebrity-Cel.com and CelebrityPhonebook.com that list authentic and verified numbers of your favourite star.
The “why the hell would you share your personal number” of it all blows my mind, but here we are, or rather, here they are - in the deep dark pit they have dug themselves where (in Alicia’s case) 30 million followers can text her all the livelong day. I can’t even stand three Whatsapps in a row, never mind 30 million.
Rapper Puff Daddy, or just Diddy – depending on how old you are - explained the decision to share his phone number on Instagram: “I’m sitting here and I’m thinking, I’m about to go into this next era of my life and I’m going to be doing a lot of positive things, a lot of disruptive things, a lot of things I really don’t want everybody, like everybody to know about,” he said.
In a nutshell, Diddy’s justification is that Instagram, Twitter and other social media sites make news very, very public - especially for celebrities. Diddy doesn’t want to share anything with just anyone and everyone, he want a deeper connection with his fans, a more… private connection so to speak.
What stops these regular fans from posting info on the very sites he is so opposed to? Who the hell knows?
It all sounds a bit retroactive to me. How are you supposed to see, let a lone respond, to messages you receive when the numbers are in the millions? Who even has a phone memory that big?
A tech company in Los Angeles called Community, for example, has amassed over $35 million in investments to make managing the direct messages of famous people a full-time job. Community helps its subscribers engage with only their most dedicated fans in a more private space.
Private space conversations are appealing, I get that, but how are the spammers and haters avoidable when the numbers are shared on social media - the most public of all spaces? Search me. Perhaps there is a lowly underpaid intern sitting in a dark room, cellphone in hand with battery pack always plugged in, filtering through all those texts.
Several reports say that these phone numbers aren’t in fact real. Yes, celebrities share them and they exist but they're unlikely to be their personal numbers at all. That is: they’re secondary numbers run by teams employed by said celebrities and most times, all you will receive in turn is an automated message in return for your take on their latest album or outfit.
Oh, what’s more, your real-real contact details and a possible host of other personal data is shared with them as well, and massive tech corporations. The relationship is very much a one-way street.
For breaches in privacy, dial 1,2,3 Celebrity.
If you need to tell Diddy you dig him, I suggest you stick to telling him on Twitter – where the privacy policies are slightly better than Facebook, for example. Alternatively, if you insist on texting celebrities, go the whole hog - you may as well throw in your ID number, blood type and home address as well.
Haji Mohamed Dawjee is a South African columnist, disruptor of the peace and the author of 'Sorry, Not Sorry: Experiences of a brown woman in a white South Africa'. Follow her on Twitter.