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Never tweet your heroes

PR exists to convince the majority at the wrong end of the celebrity-power law that the minority at the other end deserve to be there. It satisfies our - objectively ludicrous - desire to believe that anyone who can jump high, sing in tune or paint also has both acceptably bland political views and great hair. And so it perpetuates an aspirational culture that decouples man's interests from his fellow man. So hurrah for the internet, which promises to destroy PR-dom by putting celebrities directly in touch with their fans.

But there are still rules of engagement. The Monty Python lot - so geek-chic they have a programming language named after them - get it right. Last year, bored with low-quality rip-offs of their videos appearing on the net without permission, they released their most popular clips free-to-view on YouTube. It was the only way they could see to take back the power, short of "coming after you in ways too horrible to tell". This mixture of generosity and contempt has continued to win nerd hearts. Eric Idle's latest offering, "Eric Idle Responds to Your Fatuous Comments" ( - 96,474 views so far), has earned nothing but praise, despite mocking its intended audience without relent. Perhaps in this era of mass participation, it's only right for the audience to be the punchline?

Lily Allen got it right in the early days, too. When she blogged about feeling ashamed about her weight in 2007, she won enough sympathy for most people to forgive her later for ignoring our advice and going a bit Atkins anyway. But then (oops) she tried politics. And not just any politics - she chose the internet's electric fence issue: copyright infringement. Recently on her blog, she defended government plans to disconnect persistent file-sharers from the internet. But quicker than you can say high court injunction, the internet hordes descended, pointing to two MP3 mixes of other people's songs on offer - without permission - from another of her sites.

With both blog and infringing mixes since taken down, it looks as if the web has found its own Baroness Scotland. And, in a sweet bit of creative destruction, the star of the piece is emerging: Dan Bull's musical letter to Lily Allen ( - 162,895 views so far) would surely make Christmas No 1, if only EMI would license the backing track.

Becky Hogge is a writer and technologist. She was formerly the technology director of award-winning current affairs website, and Executive Director of the Open Rights Group, a grassroots digital civil liberties organisation.

This article first appeared in the 05 October 2009 issue of the New Statesman, The tories/the people