The third season of your hit TV series premieres on HBO on Sunday. Exciting, right? Are you gonna tweet about it?
Not if you're Martin Starr and Zach Woods, who play members of fictional startup Pied Piper on Silicon Valley. Woods isn't on any social media at all, and while Starr has Twitter and Instagram accounts, he uses them sparingly.
Their online chastity sets the two apart from some of their costars, such as the prolific tweeters T.J. Miller (who plays Ehrlich) and Kumail Nanjiani (who plays Dinesh). Building a following on social media, especially on Twitter, is for many actors essential when it comes to building a career and reputation--second only, perhaps, to getting an agent. Avoiding online back-and-forth seems counterintuitive for a duo featured in a show centered on the tech industry that boasts former Twitter CEO Dick Costolo as a consultant.
Starr, who plays Pied Piper's Satanist programmer Gilfoyle, says during an interview with Inc. he's had some bad experiences on Twitter that have caused him to take a step back from the platform. Woods, who plays the company's painfully awkward CFO Jared with exquisite precision, fears trolling and believes he might act compulsively on social media. He says he doesn't have any accounts.
Woods also puts strict limits on his phone usage. (He tells Inc. he'd like to see a startup come up with something that helps him to use his phone even less.) The actor often deliberately leaves his cell phone behind when heading out, he adds "because, if I have it, I'll use it as like a comfort object. It's like an adult teddy bear."
In the context of conversations about harassment on social media platforms, you can see where Starr and Woods are coming from. Well-known folks responding to negative interactions online by walking away specifically from Twitter is an established trend.
But what Starr, in particular, describes sounds less like deliberate harassment and more like basic features of how the generator of buzz in 140-character bits functions. Twitter is designed to enable a combined volume of interactions and familiar tone of conversation with strangers, that is bound to make some people squirm.
The pair sat down with Inc. earlier this week to share their thoughts on why social media isn't always the ideal way for someone in he public eye to grow a following. Here's an excerpt from the conversation, edited for length and clarity.
Inc.: Do you guys get trolled online? On Twitter?
ZW: I'm not online for that very reason, and it's to stay troll free. Maybe somebody will start sending me snail-mail troll remarks, like I'll just get like an old letter that has hostile stuff on it. But so far, no. I'm not on Twitter or Instagram or anything, partly because I can be a little compulsive about my phone and that would just be another thing to suck me into it, and also because I'm scared of the faceless horde of internet remarkers. I'm sure they would be able to point out numerous things, numerous Valley criticisms that--who knows if I could endure.
So: better to shut yourself up in a Luddite bubble.
Inc.: Is that something that is just a general practice, or does it have anything to do with being on Silicon Valley?
ZW: No, it's just general. When I spend a lot of time online it makes me feel lonely. Even when I used to have Facebook, it would make me lonelier even though it's a social networking thing. I was like, "I should get rid of this stuff, because if the whole purpose of it for me is to be connecting and it actually makes me feel more isolated, it's probably not good to use it." So I don't.
MS: But I created a fake account for him, so every once in awhile, I read all of the comments, like, "God, he's tall." "What happened to him?"
ZW: He'll read me those things. And then I'll just go sort of wander into the ocean.
Inc.: This is going to be a dumb question, probably, but did you actually create a fake Twitter for him?
MS: No. I was totally joking. But that would be incredible.
Inc.: But you're pretty active on Twitter.
MS: Oh, no. T.J., Thomas [Middleditch, who plays Richard], and Kumail are very active on Twitter. I tweet about things that I have upcoming, like live shows or things like that. I tend to use it for attendance purposes. I read a lot of the Twitter comments. Or I try to. But I feel like I had a couple weird interactions with fans via Twitter, and then I just kind of decided that it was a little bit too invasive. It gave people too close a connection. I was made a little uncomfortable by some things that happened on Twitter.
ZW: And it seems like the same interaction, you could have in person, and it would be totally nice. If it happened online it could feel [threatening]- because you can't look in the person's eyes.
MS: Maybe it is contextual. I don't know the way . . .
ZW: . . . In what spirit it is intended.
MS: Often things happen or are said on Twitter that leave me feeling uncomfortable. Like there's a lacking of any humanity in this interaction. I'm left with the huge question, "Why?" Why does Twitter really exist if this is how people use it? Because no one would say that in person. Or if they did, they would probably find themselves in a lot of physical altercations. Maybe that is how they live their lives, but I don't wanna be around people like that in my real life, nor do I wanna be around people like that in a digital world. Maybe I'm leaving out the good. I'm sure there is a lot to be gained from that as a social interactive platform.
ZW: I don't want to sound like I'm condemning social media for other people. I think there's lots of good stuff that comes from it.
Inc.: Well, I mean, you guy are celebrities, so it is a little bit different, obviously.
ZW: That's a very liberal definition of celebrity.
MS: Because we're liberals.
Inc.: Martin, it sounds like you're referencing specific interactions. Can you share any more detail about these interactions or provide an example or two?
MS: They were small interactions. Even looking back in retrospect, they feel small. At the time, they held weight only because they were one on one. Like this was personal, even though it was on an open stage, in an open forum, and the interaction itself was just like one person talking to another person, and someone felt like they were more deserving of my time or my letters.
ZW: To be honest, I do have an anonymous handle that I do use to harass Martin.
MS: Well, I blocked you.
ZW: Then I say, "I'm a butt man, let me see that butt, I need to see that butt." It's a lot of butt stuff: "You owe me that butt."
MS: I started tweeting out butt pictures.
ZW: Just to placate me.
Inc.: So was it just people trying to have too much of a conversation for you, Martin?
MS: It was really weird. It was a person who I had met in person, which I wasn't aware of at the time. I kind of responded to everybody when I first got on Twitter. I thought this was a good forum to be able to interact with people who connected with the things that I've been a part of.
ZW: Martin is, like, the sweetest man. He is so kind to people who extend themselves.
MS: I'd respond to everybody, with whatever I felt in that moment, whether it was "thank you" or sometimes it was longer. But I wanted it to just be conversational and natural and honest, and, at some point someone said something. I said "thank you" about something, and they were like, "that's it?"
And it became this back and forth of them feeling like they deserved more from me than I gave them in that moment. I was just like, 'okay, these aren't the interactions that I ever want to have.' And it slowed me down.
But there are times I go onto Twitter and I'll respond to everything I see. T.J. and Kumail and Thomas are, I think, more conversational. That's a great way to use Twitter. That just isn't how I use it.
Can you describe to me why this all took over? It's like we went from not having phones at all--and being able to find purpose in each human moment that we had on this plane--to having this thing that initially was a beeper. We knew when we were cool and popular, because someone beeped us to get a hold of us.
ZW: I think basically what we're saying is, let's bring back the era of beepers.
The Season Three premiere of Silicon Valley airs at 10 p.m. tonight on HBO .