There's no escaping a good celebrity Twitter feud.
Just look at Azealia Banks—she was suspended from the social network last May (following a string of aggressive, homophobic tweets directed at Zayn Malik and later Disney star Skai Jackson), yet she still wound up tangled in Internet drama over the weekend when she responded to Rihanna's tweets via Instagram.
If you somehow missed it, Banks was bothered by Rihanna tweeting that she was "[d]isgusted" by the "devastating news" about President Donald Trump's executive order temporarily banning refugees and citizens of seven predominantly Muslim countries from entering the U.S. The rapper responded by Instagramming Rihanna's phone number and a slew of personal insults against the Grammy winner.
Banks also urged Rihanna "and all the rest of the celebrities who are using their influence to stir the public" to "shut up and sit down," adding, "It's stupid and pathetic to watch. All of these confused people confuse other confused people."
Rihanna posted a pic of herself making an exaggerated kiss face, writing: "The face you make when you a immigrant #stayawayfromthechickens #iheartnuggets #saveourhens."
Back to the original point, though: Banks doesn't even have Twitter and she's become just as known for stirring the pot online as she has for any musicianship. Yet the behavior still fascinates, and why is that? #WhatIsTheEndGame?
Because whether it's Banks vs. Rihanna, Chris Brown vs. Soulja Boy or even just Katy Perry using a Mean Girls reference to possibly subtweet about Taylor Swift, we're inherently drawn to the dirty digital drama.
Watch out for the Regina George in sheep's clothing...— KATY PERRY (@katyperry) September 9, 2014
Who, if anyone, really benefits when celebs battle it out in the tweets ("Twitter feud" becoming the catch-all term, like Kleenex, even if the feud took place elsewhere, such as Instagram)?
As it turns out, it doesn't necessarily matter who "wins" the war of words, because these feuds can be a positive thing for all of the parties involved—Twitter included.
"In the celebrity world, attention is currency," Jay Baer, president of the social media and marketing consultancy Convince & Convert, tells E! News. "There's obviously a saying that, 'There's no such thing as bad press,' and I think [a Twitter feud] falls into that category—especially when it jumps the rails…[and goes] from Twitter to traditional media coverage. Now they've really accomplished something, because you're taking that attention and multiplying it geometrically. So it becomes free media."
Dr. Judith Roberts, an Assistant Professor of Journalism and Communication at Louisiana Tech University, agrees that sparring celebs "absolutely have something to gain" from getting caught up in a Twitter feud.
"I'm sure being in the business they're in, many of them actually do see the benefit, because celebrity status is a commodity," she tells E! News. "Their rise can be instantaneous, and their fall can be just as quick."
It's easy to see how partaking in a passionate tweet-off could regenerate interest in an otherwise fast-fading star, but getting heated over hashtags can have negative consequences as well.
Dr. Jihyun Kim, an Assistant Professor in the School of Communication Studies at Kent State University and author of the academic article "Celebrity's self-disclosure on Twitter and parasocial relationships: A mediating role of social presence," tells E! News that lashing out on Twitter "can be very harmful" to a celebrity's image. Because even if fans "agree with some of the content" at the center of the scuffle, they still "develop negative perceptions about the celebrities."
Baer puts it this way: Stars benefit from Twitter feuds "until they go on the crazy train."
"We want our celebrities to be real, but not too real," he explains. "That's the one danger when you really get into it—it can be like, 'Wow, I didn't realize she was quite like that.'"
That fine line—and what constitutes going too far—can vary from one star to another. According to Roberts, who authored a chapter of Building Bridges in Celebrity Studies called "Commodifying Celebrity: Social media, sensationalism, and how the media plays a role in creating celebrities," the risk "probably would depend on each celebrity and what he or she endorses."
"For example," she says, "if Kanye West gets into a Twitter feud about just about anything, no, there's not really a risk there." Reason being? "People kind of expect that from him," says Roberts, so the shock factor doesn't exist in the same way it would with a less outspoken star.
West, of course, patched things up peacefully with Jimmy Kimmel and Wiz Khalifa, even if it took more than 140 characters. In other instances with celebrities, though—like Banks this past spring—Twitter had to issue a red card. This was the case in July, when alt-right blogger Milo Yiannopoulos was permanently banned from the social media network after initiating a racist harassment campaign against Ghostbusters and Saturday Night Live star Leslie Jones.
Twitter doesn't directly comment on actions taken against specific users, but their rules against abusive behavior state that "any accounts and related accounts engaging in the activities specified below may be temporarily locked and/or subject to permanent suspension."
The social network's policy also clearly states Twitter "[does] not tolerate behavior that crosses the line into abuse, including behavior that harasses, intimidates, or uses fear to silence another user's voice."
As evidenced by the suspension of Banks and the banning of Yiannopoulos, Twitter's policies apply to all users, including the famous (and notorious). Fortunately, though, for Twitter (and the social-mediasphere as a whole), the celebrity feuds that do cross that line seem to be few and far between, and the robust back-and-forth of the likes of Drake vs. Meek Mill usually turn into free promotion for the stars and a branding boost for Twitter.
Gabe Ginsberg/Jason Merritt/Getty Images
Yep, you read that right: The right kind of celebrity Twitter feud is good for business across the board.
"Every time there's a Twitter fight, if you will, the story is always, 'the Twitter fight,'" says Baer. "It's not a Facebook fight. It's not an Instagram fight. It's not a Snapchat fight—it's always a Twitter fight, and so then it reinforces this concept that, 'Oh, Twitter is the place where celebrities hang out, and then people think, 'Oh, maybe I should use Twitter,' or more of the point, businesses say, 'Well jeez, if that's where all the celebrities are, maybe we should advertise there."
Twitter is not "by any stretch of the imagination, the most popular social network now," says Baer, pointing out the Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat all have a higher number of users. Yet the "reason that Twitter is viable is not how many people use it," he says, "but who uses it. And the fact that it is the playground of celebrities and athletes and business leaders and the media themselves is what makes Twitter disproportionately relevant compared to the size of its user base."
So why have we—tweeters and non-tweeters alike—not tired of following the whole celebrity Twitter feud saga yet? Dr. Kim says "gossiping about people" is simply "human nature," and curiosity is piqued as fans "develop this one-way relationship" with the stars.
Dr. Roberts, on the other hand, laughingly likens these celeb spats to "a real-life soap opera, and that's really bad"—but it's also why we keep tuning in.
Baer, meanwhile, compares celebrity Twitter feuds to "90s rap—East coast, West coast—but on a mobile phone."
"It's like the old MTV claymation show, Celebrity Deathmatch…but on Twitter," he further reasons. "It's very compelling….and what happens is that individual fans jump into that fray—they 'like' [the tweet at the center of the feud] or they retweet it or they comment, and it creates this snowball effect: The more people who interact, the more people see it; the more people who see it, the more people interact."