Former child stars facing problems is nothing new. What is new is the speed in which these stars can self-inflict career-killing wounds with social media
For those who remember Amanda Bynes as the witty, wacky star of Nickelodeon's "All That," the actress' public wackiness in the past two months has been tragic, saddening and apparently self-inflicted.
Bynes, now 27, racked up multiple hit-and-run charges after a 2012 DUI arrest led to a suspended license and a constant string of tabloid headlines. Lately, however, the former "What I Like About You" star is winning most attention for her outrageous tweets: In one tirade, she accused an NYPD police of "sexual harassment" after he allegedly "slapped" her vagina while taking her into custody last month for three charges, including criminal possession of marijuana and tampering with evidence. (The arrest report states she threw her bong out of the window when police entered her apartment.)
Last week, Bynes also took on former consort Lance Bass, who on the radio suggested she was having mental issues, and tweeted: "Sorry you're an ugly ex boy band member w/no talent or career." On Sunday, she stated her "dad is as ugly as RuPaul" and then took to Twitter on Monday to continue refuting drug charges while declaring, "All I'm becoming is more famous!"
But, Amanda Bynes is only the latest former child star to publicly melt down under grown-up pressures:
>> Lindsay Lohan‘s post-teen life has been filled with a litany of arrests, court appearances, hairdo changes and unhinged partying. The tabloid magnet even took offense to Bynes' behavior last September, tweeting: "Why did I get put in jail and a Nickelodeon star has had NO punishment(s) so far?"
>> Britney Spears famously shaved her head in 2007 after spending a day in drug rehab. The bizarre behavior from the pop princess preceded a larger media circus surrounding her child custody battle with ex-husband Kevin Federline, as well as a court-ordered conservatorship, giving her father full control of her assets.
>> Former Disney "Hannah Montana" star Miley Cyrus has had to explain a topless photo leaked onto the internet, a video of her smoking a hallucinogenic drug believed to be salvia and a number of other scandalous photographs, including one that appeared to be a lit joint.
>> Justin Bieber, 19, regularly makes headlines for bad behavior, most recenltly with neighbors filing complaints against the singer for recklessly driving his Ferrari around his gated Calabasas community and throwing disruptive late-night parties.
Child stars facing problems in their adulthood is nothing new. What is new is how fast these young stars are able to self-inflict the career-killing wounds with their fingers on the pulse of Twitter, Facebook and other social networks.
"It speeds up the meltdown because it shortens the cycle between the celebrity sending out information and the impact coming back," Dr. Pamela Rutledge, director of the Media Psychology Research Center, told TheWrap. "Now any piece of information that a celebrity wants to share, for better or for worse — independent of their handler — goes right out and starts cycling around. And it gets amplified from being passed on."
That has certainly been true of Bynes.
Headline-grabbing tweets have included a plea to Barack Obama to fire the cop who arrested her for driving under the influence, as well as one announcing her plan to sue a tabloid and gossip website for continuing to write about her bizarre behavior, like "tweeting and walking to photoshoots." The once-witty comedic actress hasn't stopped lashing out and broadcasting her puzzling decisions since.
In March — months after uploading, then deleting pictures of herself with a fresh cheek piercing on Tumblr — Bynes claimed (in later deleted tweets) paparazzi photos capturing her walking around Manhattan were actually photos of an impostor. Then in April, the former actress uploaded a strange video of her "sucking on a Sour Patch Kid listening to music to get ready."
In May, Bynes took to Twitter to call Jenny McCarthy "ugly," told Rihanna that Chris Brown physically abused her because she's "not pretty enough," announced she was becoming a rapper, insisted she isn't crazy, claimed she's "allergic to alcohol and drugs," and refuted her latest arrest, announcing plans to sue the NYPD.
Although careful not to label social media as a cause of self-destructive behavior, two public relations professionals and a celebrity gossip blogger that spoke to TheWrap agreed with Rutledge.
"I'm not sure it speeds up the meltdown, but it speeds up the awareness of the meltdown and may empower the meltdown," said Howard Bragman, vice chairman of online reputation management company in the world, Reputation.com.
"It's tragic to watch this breakdown of this young girl happen publicly," Bragman said. "If she thinks she's in control, all we're seeing is how out of control this poor girl is."
In an interview with TheWrap, celebrity gossip blogger Perez Hilton (the same blogger Bynes threatened to sue over Twitter) said Charlie Sheen took advantage of social media to amplify — and even profit off of — his drug-fueled downward spiral.
"Look at Charlie Sheen. He was almost the original Amanda Bynes, giving us a very public meltdown in the new social media age," Hilton told TheWrap.
Long before Twitter, Facebook and Instagram, mass media has had a long tradition of gravitating toward and sensationalizing entertainment news stories. Hilton used the 1993 Michael Jackson molestation trial as an example.
"This occurrence of celebrity meltdowns having a lot of traction in social media is really just how the news cycle works," Hilton explained. "When there is a story that the media deems newsworthy enough, they blow it up and Amanda Bynes story has progressively become more and more news worthy because of her progressively erratic behavior."
Steve Honig, a publicist who once represented Lohan, pointed out that Twitter functions as a wire service similar to the Associated Press, attracting hundreds of thousands — or in some cases, millions — of eyes.
"It's impulsive communication. It's very spontaneous, so the nature of it is that people just spew out what they think, when they think it," Honig explained. "For a public figure or celebrity, that can be problematic."
Comedian Gilbert Gottfried, one of Honig's clients, experienced just how problematic impulsive tweeting can be in March of 2011. After making a series of less-than-tasteful jokes about the tsunami that devastated Japan, Gottfried lost a lucrative job as the voice of the loud-mouthed Aflac Insurance duck.
So how can celebrities and other types of public figures avoid a public relations disaster birthed or spread through social media?
"Awareness is key," Honig said.
Social media allows celebrities to carelessly air their dirty laundry, but it also allows any person with a mobile phone to catch their unsavory behavior on camera and upload it to the internet to share with the world on any social network of their choice.
"We live in an extraordinarily transparent world where everything you do is laid out there for everybody to see," Bragman said. "It's a very different world out there, and that's one other aspect of social media. Everything you do is public."
Video by Rebecca Rosenberg