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Brad Rock: Kobe Bryant needs to get off the Web

SALT LAKE CITY — Dwight Howard had 4,278,361 followers on Twitter by midday on Tuesday.

Make that 4,278,360.

The temporary dip was because of a problem with Kobe Bryant, who tweeted that he won’t be following his former Laker teammate anymore. Howard had agreed to sign with the Houston Rockets, prompting this response: “I just find it hard to follow players that wanna kick my team’s (rear).”

Fair enough, but what I really need to know is why he was following Howard in the first place. Social networking is for promoting self and business interests, connecting with new and old friends and lobbing insults at strangers that would never otherwise occur.

I read a few comments people made to Bryant and they were vicious and vile. He makes $30 million a year. Why subject himself to that?

Here is where I add a disclaimer. I am on Facebook and Twitter, too (@therockmonster), mainly because someone at work told me I should do it. Most media members comply. It provides a sense of immediacy and intimacy with followers. It’s OK when someone tweets nice things. But like everything else involving social media, there are lies, distortions and personal attacks, too.

I consider it an updated version of the regular mail I used to get, wherein people would call me all kinds names, “idiot” being least offensive. Apparently Bryant thinks that fielding those things is now part of his job, too.

There are reasons why celebrities think they need social media access. For instance, by going online they can cut out the middleman, i.e. the mainstream media. It gives them a chance to get out the message they want, when they want it. The bad part is that they usually end up posting something embarrassing. Their publicists then have to clean it up, often through — you guessed it — the mainstream media.

But if you have as many people managing your image as most celebrities, why not let them do their jobs? There are team and personal publicity managers, administrative assistants, agents and lawyers to handle all that.

If I were Bryant I would avoid social media like strep throat.

Psychologists say athletes lead insular lives. They play their games, go to clubs, but mostly spend a lot of time in hotel rooms. It’s not as though Bryant can walk through a mall or catch a movie. I’ve seen it firsthand with star athletes. A trip to the convenience store can become 30 minutes of autograph signing.

Still, many athletes entertain themselves by reaching out via social media. It’s safe and solitary — but not really. Actually, it’s harsh and demeaning. Just ask actress Jennifer Love-Hewitt. As far as I can tell by looking up her tweets, she is one of the more sweet-tempered celebrities around. Most of her comments were the “have a beautiful day” variety.

Yet she said she quit because she didn’t have room for the threats and negativism. Good for her. You want to get abused, go to a political demonstration; there are plenty of taunts for everyone.

Even darker is the case of tennis player Rebecca Marino, who has battled depression for years. Isolated and away from family and friends, she jumped onto the social media platform, only to be verbally assaulted by followers, some of whom lost bets on her matches. The meanness only added to her struggles. Her ranking plummeted. So she didn’t just quit Twitter and Facebook, she quit tennis.

Anyone in a public position gets more criticism than praise. It used to be that I’d get occasional angry phone calls or hate mail, some of it funny, a little of it scary. Then came e-mail. That helped reduce the phone calls and letters, but the insulting messages spiked.

The social media, though, is a different deal. Readers can post comments in the same basic place as my column, with no need for verification. Meanwhile, they can avoid awkward phone conversations or even private e-mail replies.

They can just blast away.

I can live with that because, well, I have to. Kobe doesn’t. If it’s friends he needs, he can fly them all to his vacation home. Enemies aren’t a problem, either; he sees them in the stands, each time he plays a road game. The Lakers don't seem to need much promoting.

If I had his money, I’d simplify by quitting social media and moving to an island. But before doing that, I’d leave a sign in my front yard that said: Please send all messages in a bottle.

Email:; Twitter: @therockmonster; Blog: Rockmonster Unplugged