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140 characters

Twitter logo <em>Picture: Simon.hess</em>

Twitter logo Picture: Simon.hess

“Give every man thy ear, but few thy voice,” Polonius advises Laertes before he leaves for Paris.

A good trick if you can manage it. Management guru Stephen Covey’s seven habits of highly effective people suggests as its number five “seek first to understand and then be understood.”

No one told Charlie Sheen.

The actor’s diatribe at Chuck Lorre, executive producer of Two and a Half Men, which led to his dismissal when domestic and drug abuse didn’t, looked like it would be the full stop in the sentence of his very public meltdown.

It was barely the semi-colon.

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After the Hot Shots! Part Deux star claimed he spent almost a decade “effortlessly and magically converting [Lorre’s] tin cans into pure gold”, there has been a stream of invective on commissioned interviews suggesting Sheen is solely in the tin-can industry.

This walking advert for scriptwriting and editing has scarcely been off TV (that was where the “I am on a drug. It’s called Charlie Sheen” comment aired), with his own chat show Sheen’s-Korner on internet streaming site ustream.tv, and back on the radio endorsing Rob Lowe as his successor on the middle-of-the-road sitcom.

The T-shirt manufacturers have also been busy.

The mental and physical welfare of Sheen has been relegated to a mere sideshow. Pretty much every British newspaper long ago ripped off Vanity Fair’s compare-and-contrast with Colonel Gaddafi.

And now the centre-stage story is that – like Kriss Akabusi and Roy Castle – Sheen is a record-breaker.

Twitter is the culprit. The random stream of gibberish on Sheen’s ustream feed ended after an hour or so. The drivel spouted during his radio and TV interviews were broken up by commercials. But the stream-of-consciousness of the Platoon actor’s tweets is seemingly never-ending.

He doesn’t discuss the craft of acting, or former colleagues. He isn’t even sharing his idiosyncratic political views. Nothing but seemingly meaningless buzz phrases such as Tigerblood and “building the perfect torpedo”, the hashtags #winning, #fastball, #chooseyourvice, and references to himself as “The Warlock”.

The tweets mean something to the 2,453,377 (at time of writing) followers, who are the social-media equivalent of drivers doing 40mph on the outside lane because they’re gawping at a car crash on the other side of the dual-carriageway. And, like those drivers, they should soon move on.

This has given Sheen an injection of attention around the time of his life when he needed a different kind of medication. He is now applying for a social media intern (not the same role as his nanny, you’d hope).

What’s galling is the assistance he received from all at Twitter HQ. Twitter, famously, does even less customer service than Facebook, and no longer verifies accounts. But when Sheen contacted them, they kicked off a squatter on his previous site, gave him tips (clearly not enough) about hashtagging, and helped point him in the direction of how to attach photos.

This might be a Tipping Point, of sorts, for Twitter. It used to be known as the playground for polymaths such as Stephen Fry to tweet to his 2.3 million followers (yes, 150,000 fewer than Sheen after three years) about everything from the duck-billed platypus to the Test score to the latest production of Das Rheingold to being stuck in a lift.

Imagine being stuck in a lift with Charlie Sheen. The powers that be at Twitter went out of their way to enable and encourage Sheen by giving him a voice when they knew there were millions of ears ready to listen. Their customer service department was opened for the day, and only for a sitcom actor who pulled in around £700,000 per episode. This was at a time of his life when real friends would have shepherded Sheen away from the spotlight.

He might say “I got magic and I got poetry in my fingertips, man” – but not when he’s typing his 140 characters.

All this activity landed Charlie Sheen in Guinness World Records as having acquired the biggest number of followers in a short space of time.

If only his tastes stopped at Guinness.

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