As we trudged through lockdown in spring, everyone was glued to their phones, even more so than usual. Our internet usage broke records as people frantically refreshed news apps, Zoom quizzed and lost hours flicking through Instagram stories about banana bread and indoor vegetable patches.
Back in March, the woman behind the anonymous Instagram pop culture news page DeuxMoi began providing the ultimate distraction from the bleak everyday: celebrity gossip. She opened her DMs to anyone who wanted to talk shit about their run-ins with the stars – wait staff, bartenders, onlookers. Then she screenshotted the DMs and posted them to her stories.
DeuxMoi hasn’t looked back since. Request to follow the private account and you’ll be treated to an array of juicy rumours, ranging from the time a certain star screamed at her live-in nanny to a whole host of A-list actors and allegations about their illicit affairs.
The rise of DeuxMoi follows the year’s trend of social media overtaking traditional press as the epicentre of celebrity gossip. First, there was that viral Twitter thread in March on people’s experiences working on Ellen DeGeneres’ daytime show, Ellen, leading to its network WarnerMedia investigating the allegations of a toxic work environment. In July, Hailey Bieber was accused of rudeness by a waitress on TikTok. (Amazingly, Bieber apologised.) DeuxMoi’s reach increased accordingly, with 45,000 followers growing to 380,000 followers since March.
“It was really rogue back then [in March], like a little secret club,” DeuxMoi tells VICE UK over Zoom. Her camera is off, naturally. “I feel like I have to be a lot more careful now with the things that I post.”
With more eyeballs on her page and news outlets now syndicating her stories, this recent hesitance isn’t unfounded: “I go off the information I believe to be true based on reading hundreds of posts a day.”
Still, surely there’s no telling if someone’s real life gossip is another person’s lies? DeuxMoi doesn’t sweat it too much. “I can usually tell which are fake or fanfiction by the wording. If I post something that’s not true, the fandoms will let me know. Sometimes I correct it, but sometimes I leave it up for people to decide for themselves. I tell people all the time to take it with a grain of salt.”
It’s not uncommon to see contradictory accounts of celeb behavior. One contributor will say an A-lister is a total dickhead, the next will say they’re a sweetie. With 300 to 500 messages coming in per day, DeuxMoi’s opinions on certain celebrities change often. “My view of Jennifer Aniston has changed, because in my mind, she was just this cool, laidback, Californian best friend,” she says. “I’ve learned she's a little more uptight than that, which actually, if you think about it makes sense, because she's very famous and successful.”
Does DeuxMoi really expect any extraordinarily famous celebrity – Aniston included – to be nice all the time? “I try to put myself in their shoes. With all the pressure they’re dealing with, would I be a nice person?” she asks. “Or would I be screaming at an assistant?
“The account is more about human behaviour than about celebrity gossip for me. I was like, ‘let's dig deep on Jennifer Aniston and try to find out what kind of person she really is.’ We will never get that answer, but it's fun to hypothesise, I guess.”
DeauxMoi’s owner keeps the account set to private and is careful to blank out the names on the most salacious stories about sex, drugs and other misdeeds to make them blind items, but lawyers warn that its content still toes the line on libel law.
Steven Heffer, the head of media and privacy law at Collyer Bristow, says that these measures might not be enough to keep DeuxMoi out of the courtroom.
“It's one thing to say someone's bit grumpy occasionally, but if you say they're constantly rude, nasty and unpleasant, that might cause serious harm to their reputation and could form the basis of a libel claim,” he tells VICE UK. “Potentially, whoever operates the host site or runs the account can be sued for damages.”
As with anything gossip-related, there’s also the issue of privacy and whether it’s fair to report on the minutiae of real peoples’ lives. Diehard fans of Taylor Swift slated DeuxMoi for sharing intimate details of Swift’s life in New York, as observed through the window by a nosy neighbour.
The info itself was pretty innocuous (Swift apparently cooked a lot of pasta), but there’s still a risk of infringing someone’s rights. “Privacy laws apply in areas you have an expectation of privacy,” Heffer explains. “And it’s sometimes difficult to see where that line is drawn, but sometimes it veers into the question of harassment.”
The problem is, DeuxMoi’s USP is posting the kind of salty tidbits even the Daily Mail would wince at. “I used to love reading tabloid gossip, but DeuxMoi showed me not everything is as it seems,” Dawn, a hairstylist who has been following the page for six weeks, tells me.
Haeley, a Toronto-based follower, agrees. “It strips away the carefully crafted celeb images and tells the stories of real people,” she says. “It definitely feels more attuned with our current moment. And it disrupts the celebrity PR machine which, I think, people have become a lot more aware of and critical of this year.”
The recent rise of DeuxMoi has indeed been disruptive. While a lot of the rumours could be dismissed as fake gossip or urban legend, she’s also been the first to report on several later-confirmed rumours, like Kim Kardashian’s BFF Larsa Pippen hooking up with Khloe Kardashian’s current boyfriend Tristan Thompson.
Tabloids are often only given access to celebrities – even ex-Love Island contestants – if they jump through hoops, agree a list of vanilla topics with an agent and promote whatever fake tan or fashion brand the star is affiliated with. DeuxMoi, on the other hand, gets straight to the gossip.
Is one anonymous Instagram page with less than a million followers really capable of wreaking havoc in the celebrity PR sphere? Richard Hillgrove, who has represented Rose McGowan, Julian Assange and Amber Heard, doesn’t think so.
“I don’t think DeuxMoi threatens PRs wanting to micromanage the image of celebrities,” he says. “It's just another communications vehicle to place stories, taking a strategic role in navigating the celebrity’s image through the image white water ride of publicity.”
I ask whether Hillgrove would react differently if he were currently representing James Corden, for instance, whose rep has taken a hit recently. He’s cynical. “There’s been talk since August that Corden is Ellen DeGeneres’ likely successor, so the natural defence from her supporters would be for the same sort of ‘rude to staff’ rumours to swell up about him,” he says. “DeuxMoi is a great place to fuel this info-war. My first response would be to sit back and simply watch the unsubstantiated rumours rise and potentially fall away because there’s no real substance to them.”
Even if the more salacious tip-offs die down, followers would still gobble up crumbs of everyday information on celebrities’ lives. A popular item on her page is “celebs who dine together”, featuring pics or written accounts of surprising famous friends spotted out for dinner. Others are even more banal: Timothée Chalamet riding his bike in New York, Brad Pitt ordering four cheeseburgers in an LA McDonald’s.
These kind of submissions are DeuxMoi’s faves, she tells me: “Someone sent in Chris Evans’s sandwich order. It was a ham sandwich, orange juice and salt and vinegar crisps. People thought the combination of those three things was sociopathic.”
As someone who used to work at the now-defunct gossip magazine Reveal, I found the constant battle for access to celebrities frustrating rather than exciting. As former colleague and celebrity journalist Kimberly Bond puts it, “Being in the field made me realise celebrities are no different, or no more special, than us 'normal' people – they're just as terrified as being humiliated, terrified or belittled as we are, except they have such a huge stage as a platform for their fuck-ups, and so many more people eager to watch them fall.”
But maybe we can learn something from the appetite for these humanising tidbits of celebrity lives. In pandemic times, we don’t want Gal Gadot and co to croon “Imagine” from their cavernous LA mansions. We’re not interested in staged paparazzi shots outside Nobu and we’re infuriated by Kim Kardashian’s trip to a private island. We want the minutiae – Chris Evans eating ham sandwiches with orange juice and Taylor Swift’s pasta dinners. We just like celebrities most when they allow themselves to be – as the US Weekly column claims – just like us.