Twitter is proving to be a popular destination for television
celebrities once they find themselves removed from the small screen. Take Conan O’Brien, for instance, who can probably attribute some of his post-Tonight Show success to the social media presence he built up following his split with NBC.

The latest television star to find himself on the popular microblogging
site, however, might be the most interesting, and not necessarily in a
good way.

After finding his show cancelled and going on a media rampage against his former employer, Charlie Sheen is now on Twitter. The world can thank a company called Ad.ly for Sheen’s new Twitter account, which has acquired nearly one million followers in little more than a day.

Ad.ly is a company that facilitates social media endorsements (read: paid tweets) on Twitter and Facebook, and according to Arnie Gullov-Singh, the company’s CEO, Sheen is “probably the biggest name in media right now“.

So his company couldn’t help but reach out to Sheen’s people and arrange for the (former) Two and Half Men star to offer up bizarre behavior 140 characters at a time.

Many, of course, think that the attention being lavished on Sheen is unwarranted, and many also believe that it’s tragic given Sheen’s behavior.

After all, some believe Sheen is not in the best mental condition, which has sparked an intense debate over the role the media and journalists may be playing in making a potentially bad situation worse.

With this debate in mind, Sheen’s newfound Twitter fame raises some interesting questions:

  • Is Ad.ly taking advantage of Sheen by signing him up for Twitter, ostensibly in hopes that it can monetize his popularity? Some of Ad.ly’s celebrities, such as Kim Kardashian, reportedly earn five-figure payouts for single tweets, so Sheen’s new Twitter account is, on paper, a valuable asset for Ad.ly.
  • In rushing to give Sheen the CharlieSheen username and verify his account, something it rarely does these days, is Twitter also taking advantage of Sheen to ensure that its platform becomes a big part of an eyeball-grabbing media circus?

    Already, Sheen is reportedly one of the most talked-about subjects on Twitter, so having him tweeting is certainly a boon for the site’s traffic.

  • Are there any mainstream marketers that would actually consider associating their brands with Sheen?

    According to the company, it has more than 1,000 of “the most influential celebrities on Facebook and Twitter” in its stable, and it works with advertisers to match them with the “right celebrities” to execute “scalable endorsements that engage and resonate.” Yet it’s unclear whether Sheen is the “right celebrity” for any brand at this point.

Obviously, Sheen is an adult, and he hasn’t, for instance, been involuntarily committed. So there’s an argument to be made that nothing unethical is going on here, even if it leaves some shaking their heads in dismay.

Given that professionals think something is probably amiss with Sheen, it’s worth wondering whether Ad.ly and Twitter have taken themselves down a very low road.

From this perspective, the story behind Sheen’s Twitter account reveals that social media is a lot more like the traditional media than most would like to believe.

Social media is supposed to be more authentic and empathetic; relationships and substance are said to matter. Even the people behind some of the most popular social media properties, like Twitter, try to promotesocial good‘ through their their platforms.

But when it comes right down to it, @CharlieSheen suggests that underneath the facade, social media is just as interested in eyeballs and money, whatever the human cost, as traditional media.