Shane Warne and Liz Hurley: A love affair on Twitter?

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Australian cricketer Shane Warne (L) and British actress Liz Hurley () posing next to her husband Arun Nayar as they arrive at La Fenice Theatre in Venice on August 28, 2008
Image caption,
Former Aussie cricket star Shane Warne and model Elizabeth Hurley confirmed splits from their respective partners on Twitter

Cricket star Shane Warne and model Elizabeth Hurley not only exchanged flirtatious messages on Twitter, but announced the end of their respective relationships on the microblogging site. So has tweeting become part of 21st Century courtship?

Celebrities may claim to cherish their privacy when it comes to romantic relationships - often going to great lengths to disguise dating or paper over cracks - but some undoubtedly love lapping up the limelight.

Who can forget Tom Cruise declaring his love for actress Katie Holmes while jumping up and down on Oprah's famed furniture, or Matt Damon announcing on the same show in 1998 that he and Minnie Driver were no longer together?

Now micro-blogging site Twitter - which boasts nearly 95 million tweets a day - seems to be providing an even bigger stage, with Liz Hurley and Shane Warne its latest players.

But instead of simply using it to give their fans a news flash about their romantic status, Hurley and Warne exchanged flirtatious tweets that could be read by anyone. What's more, Hurley had yet to announce the end of her marriage.

"Sammy [her spaniel] sends you a special lick and says he'd like to put his silky head on your shoulder," was a tweet in November from Hurley to Warne.

This kind of online flirting is risk-taking that can be almost as seductive as the relationship itself, says Judi James, a social behaviour expert.

She compares the shared jokes and secretive codes to passing notes in school, where it does not really matter what is said because it is the act that bonds them together. This kind of behaviour leads to "cognitive confusion".

"People's behaviour can have the opposite effect to their goal - it's like office romances, people say their partners must never know, but then they leave huge clues like e-mails everyone can access.

"It's almost like sticking a banner on the wall. A psychologist would say subliminally they wanted to be found out."

In April, film star Jim Carrey and Jenny McCarthy both used the site to inform fans of their split, with Frasier star Kelsey Grammer tweeting about his divorce from former Playboy model Camille Donatacci three months later.

Last month, Desperate Housewives star Eva Longoria also joined the tweeting troupe, catapulting her decision to divorce into cyberspace.

Part of the reason a lot of stars tweet these private events is due to PR, says Ms James, because they feel deeply misunderstood and they want to get their "ideal projected persona" out there.

"It can be quite an emotional performance - almost like stepping on stage to perform - and it goes against what is deemed to be a natural desire for privacy on these matters, particularly if it involves a messy relationship."

For others, she says, tweeting can vary from just being a natural way of communicating news, to the ultimate public display of affection.

Image caption,
Jonathan Smith announced his engagement to Natalie Goburdhun via Twitter a few weeks ago

"It's evolved from a form of communication that is deemed to be very romantic - the old-fashioned love letters of Victorians. Instead of being published after death, they can be shared in two seconds - with the whole world seeing their affection and love," she says.

One person who decided to announce his engagement via Twitter is 31-year-old Jonathan Smith, founding partner of Catch digital. But far from being a grand romantic gesture, he says it was the "quickest and easiest" way to tell all his friends.

"My proposal was private, as it should be, but when it came to telling everyone, I thought it would be fun to use Twitter.

"The Monday morning after we got engaged I wrote something rhetoric like 'Is it uncouth to announce I am engaged on Twitter?"

The only person who knew the news before his tweet was his future wife's mother, but within minutes he was receiving texts and tweets of congratulations from all over the world.

But not everyone has such happy experiences of things being shared over social networking sites.

One woman, who wishes to remain anonymous, says she was "utterly shocked" and "hugely hurt" when her former husband revealed they were getting divorced on Facebook.

"He'd put something along the lines of: 'My wife has left me, I wasn't good enough, isn't that a shame' on his Facebook wall. I hadn't even thought about how I was going to tell my friends - but Facebook was definitely too public a forum for such an intimate and personal heartbreak."

The woman, who was in her 20s at the time, says a mutual friend eventually persuaded her former husband to remove the post, and she puts it down to him feeling "utterly distraught, hurt and defensive".

"I think he didn't want to be seen as anything other than wronged party, but it was a massively inappropriate way of displaying feelings - these things can't be explained in 140 words," she says.

For Janet Murray, 36, a journalist at the Guardian, Twitter is a practical means to communicate with her husband, because she is too busy to take his phone calls or respond to his e-mails.

"He thinks I'm ignoring him, so he's set up a Twitter account to get in touch with me - normally about something like who will wait for the plumber, who is cooking dinner or who is babysitting," she laughs.

"If he tweets, my followers see and I'm embarrassed into replying, so it works!"

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