Troixmoi reveals our obsession with fake celebrity gossip
In a post-truth internet landscape, Deuxmoi, Hollywood Unlocked and now, Troixmoi, have turned us all into absurdist stasi-like citizen paparazzi.
A few weeks ago, a celebrity gossip Instagram account made an audacious claim: “Danny Devito being pushed around in a stroller by Sir Paul McCartney at Brentwood Country Mart.” It was just one of many “sightings” reported to them. Another? “Saw Jon Hamm swimming right off the shore of Alcatraz Island.”
These posts are fake, obviously. And everyone (or nearly everyone) knows it. The account that posted them, Troixmoi, is a parody of Deuxmoi, the popular crowd-sourced celeb gossip Instagram that posts anonymous fan sightings of celebrities in a similar format. Deuxmoi has 1.4 million followers who pore over its speculations and quotidian news of things like Martha Stewart’s latte order and Jennifer Aniston’s pasta preferences, and more substantial stuff like when the new Taylor Swift album will be out or whether Miles Teller is vaccinated.
Like Deuxmoi, Troixmoi accepts anonymous submissions of unverified celebrity sightings, but unlike Deuxmoi, the sightings are imaginary. Deuxmoi clarifies in their bio that it “does not claim any information [it has] published is based in fact,” but much like many tabloid musings, they tend to be anyway. Troixmoi’s, considerably more ridiculous, usually are not.
Troixmoi’s fake news is mostly harmless, but its popularity — Andy Cohen’s radio show even did a segment where listeners had to guess which gossip was from Deuxmoi and which from Troixmoi — says something about the world we live in. Is it a sign of a post-truth media culture? Are Deuxmoi and Troixmoi any different than the gossip mags from the print era? One big difference is that thanks to smartphones and social media: “everyone is a paparazzi now,” says Andrea McDonnell, a communications professor at Providence College and author of Celebrity: A History of Fame.
In some ways citizen paparazzi are an improvement from the aggressive celebrity stalking of the 90s and early 2000s. There “was really a war in the 90s and the early noughties between celebrities and paparazzi,” said Drexel University communications professor Hilde Van den Bulck. Now that anyone can get pictures of celebs and celebs post “candid” snaps on Instagram, paparazzi seems to be less aggressive because pictures have less value. But on the downside, celebs are now being constantly surveilled by Stasi-like fans who report their every move via text updates and photos to Deuxmoi.
Troixmoi began then, as both an homage and a critique. Its creator is a television writer who followed Deuxmoi and saw posts about her famous friends that weren’t true. “We started thinking ‘It'd be so easy to just make [DeuxMoi’s postings] up’,” said the anonymous Troixmoi founder. She began sending false sightings to Deuxmoi, who would ask who she was, to which she’d say that she was “a very wealthy shipping magnate” who comes “across celebrities from all walks of life,” she said. “[Deuxmoi] clearly knew like 99% of the shit that I was sending in was fake.” The joke was soon legitimised in a parody account, which, she says, Deuxmoi’s creator has been “a great sport about”. Deuxmoi declined to be interviewed for this article, but has called Troixmoi “the annoying little sister I never asked for.”
“There's a part of [Deuxmoi] that's all in good fun, but then there's a part of it that's a little bit insidious and privacy invading,” said Troixmoi’s creator. Celebrities “have a right to privacy and they have a right to live their lives not under a microscope.” But she counts herself a fan of Deuxmoi in a way, and it’s the ambiguity of the posts that are appealing. “The ridiculousness of Deuxmoi lives and breathes in the complete unverifiability of anything that is crowdsourced from the internet,” she said. “It's all so anonymous that none of it could be true, or all of it could be true. That's the titillating part of the whole thing.”
And she’s right: part of the joy of gossip has always been figuring out what is real and what is fake. Gossip mags claim “Jennifer Aniston has had 20 babies and is pregnant again, and we know it's not true, right?,” Hilde says. “But people still enjoy reading it. Part of gossip has always been about speculation to various degrees.”
With Troixmoi there is no game to play about the veracity of the info. It’s all fake. Yet the creator’s proximity to fame is what made the account interesting to followers of Deuxmoi in the first place. Fans noticed that celebrities were following and commenting on the fake posts, and soon began to speculate on Deuxmoi’s subreddit about the author of Troixmoi, as well as sending in their own sightings to the account.
Does the truth matter when it comes to gossip? Not when it comes to the audience. “We love gossip, even if we don't think it's true, because… gossip, especially about people we don't actually know, like celebrities, allows us to bond with the people that we do know, in a way that's not risky, because we're not gonna hurt Lindsay Lohan’s feelings,” Andrea says.
But when truth and fiction get confused and gossip falsehoods hit the news cycle there can be downsides--as happened with Hollywood Unlocked’s recent report that Queen Elizabeth II had died. The site retracted their statement, claiming an intern had accidentally posted news of the Queen’s death, then their editor Jason Lee said that the initial story was right and the Queen had died, Instagram labelled the news as false, and finally Lee conceded.
False reports of celebrity deaths aren’t uncommon, but why would anybody believe that Hollywood Unlocked would be the first outlet to get the scoop on Liz? Perhaps it’s because the media landscape has changed so much, or because it wouldn’t be the first time gossip outlets have broken big stories (Deuxmoi was one of the first outlets to break the Armie Hammer story in 2021).
“Audiences are super savvy. We know when we're reading an article on the New York Times versus scrolling through the Deuxmoi Instagram, right?” Andrea says. The problem, she says, is that the boundaries “of celebrity news and more traditional political news have become increasingly blurred… I can go on Vogue and watch AOC put on a fierce red lip, and then I can go and check out her legislative agenda.” It’s become harder to determine whether something is true because “celebrities are increasingly moving into a public sphere, and political figures are increasingly celebrities,” Andrea says. “Is it opinion if it's an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal? Or if it's on Deuxmoi? Do we do a perfect job as readers and media audiences making distinctions between these?”
Even though everything posted on Troixmoi is false, its creator says she follows some of her own ethical guidelines, like not making jokes about assault. “I don't want to make light of anything that's serious, anything that would be an allegation,” she says. “I don’t want to have anyone committing a crime on Troixmoi… I still want to be respectful in the fake.” Andrea says Troixmoi is “all well and good and fun,” but it does create “a little bit of a dangerous precedent in the media economy… undoubtedly, some of that false information, like the game of telephone, is gonna leak its way into people's consciousnesses.”
A lot of the time Troixmoi is so over the top that it’s hard to believe it could be true: it features spottings of long-dead historical figures like JFK Jr (who is “still super hot but has put on some weight”) and Francis Scott Key, as well as the “ghost of Kafka” who was seen in a spin class. “It heightens the absurdity of it where it's people you wouldn't necessarily see spoken about in a public forum,” Troixmoi says. “It just it makes me laugh. It's funny to me.”
So is reading — and enjoying — fake gossip a bad thing? Not necessarily. In a way, if people are enjoying fake gossip, it’s better than real gossip: it can’t harm anyone. “It's a kind of escapism. It's not thinking about the war in Ukraine,” Hilda says. “Critics of capitalism will say that’s what capitalism does, they distract you from the truth.” But sometimes that distraction is just what we need.