‘Anon Pls,’ The Novel From @deuxmoi, Draws Power From the Cloak Of Anonymity

This work of fiction from the anonymous Instagram account deftly captures how celebrity gossip culture has been democratized by armchair commentators, viral rumors and eager influencers.

HarperCollins

For the celebrity gossip Instagram account @deuxmoi, anonymity has been both key to its insider intel and incredible popularity. 

This anonymity is also what makes it stand out in the celebrity news ecosystem. 

Online celebrity gossip straddles a wide gulf today, as established print properties like People and Life & Style compete against the salacious likes of TMZ and Perez Hilton for clicks and eyes, all promising the most explosive, exposing, or exclusive story to readers. While vanguard media names and sensationalist sites battle it out, others are launching social media-only news publications, with news curated and shared exclusive to these platforms. Many of us have become increasingly beguiled by the hypnotic lulls of Instagram and TikTok for all our digital consumption, including celebrity gossip. It’s this larger tension that has seen @deuxmoi—whether intentionally or not—capitalize on a gap in the celebrity media sphere: anonymous celebrity intel fed through Instagram. 

The @deuxmoi (meaning “two me” in French) account began in late March 2020 as an opportunistic project between two friends as a cure-all for the glum and ennui caused by COVID-19 stay-at-home orders. The pair asked followers to share snippets of mundane celebrity tea like orders at restaurants, sightings in public, or interactions with fans. Since then, @deuxmoi has exploded to almost 1.6 million followers, as the pleasures of innocuous gossip and uncontroversial rumor feed a collective cultural fix for celebrity news, and help alleviate the triviality of daily life social media lets us escape from. 

Now the anonymous founders of @deuxmoi have released a fictionalized version of the account’s supposed beginnings, aptly enough titled Anon Pls. The story goes that Cricket Lopez, a personal assistant to former reality-TV stylist Sasha Sherman, starts @deuxmoi for a bit of light fun, and to see if she can secure some free swag by wedging herself into the world of influencers. It’s an online escape too, since life under Sherman is grueling and demoralizing: the stylist forces her staff to use their personal credit cards for business purchases (so they rack up high interest) and throws regular temper tantrums when packaged salad dressings are left in her salad container. In a drunken moment, Lopez decides to leak some celebrity gossip she’s heard a friend verify. With this intel—and a few other blind items shared via the Instagram inbox—@deuxmoi soon goes viral.  

People quickly become besotted with this authorless Instagram sharing reports about celebrities—everything from how much they tip, whether they are nice to waitstaff, where they have been spotted working out. Contacts working in law and tech advise Lopez to add a disclaimer to the account (stressing these DM reports are unverified) and to tighten her simple account security (less she gets doxxed). The anonymized DM screenshots soon start captivating the humble masses, all eager for a short dose of celebrity tea and secretive reconnaissance from the general public. Publicists, stylists, make-up artists, and even some celebrities themselves then start moderating and debating the veracity of the stories, publicly or privately across social media. 

For an account with a name that is, according to Lopez, apparently “just a silly bit of French nothingness that sounded fake-fancy,” @deuxmoi begins to hold enormous cultural and political weight. It starts determining the celebrity gossip cycle as well as disrupts the hold vanguard entertainment media have on reporting and exclusives within the ecosystem. The rumors about these (fictionalized) celebrities prove increasingly fraught for @deuxmoi to deal with too, as anonymous leaks suggest actors are being dropped for major film projects (à la Ezra Miller), or former pop princesses are actually at the mercy of their coterie of handlers (Britney Spears-style). Lopez attempts to moderate these problematic items, while curious journalists (and celebrities) continue to sniff out the @deuxmoi account to find out its owner’s real identity. 

Anon Pls. deftly captures how celebrity gossip culture has been completely democratized by armchair commentators, unverified and viral rumors, and eager influencers hinting at conspiracies across platforms like Instagram and TikTok. While the novel serves to give a pulpy retelling of @deuxmoi’s supposed origins, there’s also a smart thematic inflection on anonymity that makes it stick out more than any usual “novelization” does. The book is preoccupied with the politics of anonymity: the fictional Cricket Lopez’s right to it; each public contributor’s assumed privacy sending a blind item to the DMs; even the true @deuxmoi’s founders. (The pair who founded the real @deuxmoi were outed this year—Google if you must.) The fight for privacy—probed via fictional celebrities and the hungry obsession around the identity of the fictitious @deuxmoi—is an issue irrevocably bound up in the celebrity news business. Should the fictional creator expect anonymity when wading into this gossip ecosystem? Do the real @deuxmoi founders deserve an expectation of privacy too? If celebrities can be exposed (even if for a benign item like a Starbucks order), are curators of anonymous celebrity accounts immune from some exposure? Each is, after all, wading into the discourse of anonymity and privacy.    

The @deuxmoi account tells us anonymity can be a powerful antidote to our increasingly over-exposed world of curated online lives, one where power imbalances in industries selling artifice like fashion and entertainment, can dehumanize those out of the spotlight. Anonymous celebrity intel can be a powerful weapon (and sometimes an important corrective). The fictional @deuxmoi account, we’re told, was “primed for this specific moment in time, when celebs have total control over their images thanks to the power they glean from their own social accounts.” 

It’s unsurprising then to read in Anon Pls how celebrities themselves name and shame other celebrities in the DMs, always eager to discolor the varnish of another. One insider leak—from another celebrity, no less—sees Lopez land at an exclusive nightclub party celebrating a former teen pop star, all with the promise of a possible meet-and-greet. Lopez, however, only discovers the lone pop star spaced out, guarded by her handlers, and smoking crack cocaine. While this drug habit news would never have made the @deuxmoi feed, to Lopez (and us) it’s a sobering reminder on how celebrity and influencer culture can be so cannibalizing—and how even other celebrities want @deuxmoi to help weaponize the account’s stories. Anonymous and unverified gossip has always been brandished against stars and endlessly so, perhaps never more than in the celebrity mag business. But rarely has it been circulated by one major online and anonymous publisher. 

Although pitched as a pulpy potboiler to help bolster the @deuxmoi brand, remaining anonymous here does mean the novel connects to a tradition of authorless books. Anonymity in publishing has served different ends—sometimes because of taboo subject matter, other times to garner an author blind success. The Marquis de Sade’s early erotic novel, Justine (1791), reveled in shocking readers with graphic and explicit sexual encounters. The act saw Sade eventually thrown in prison, even though the work was originally nameless. Go Ask Alice (1971) revealed to 1970s America that teen girls were partaking in an invisible drug epidemic, to tragic ends—even though a Mormon housewife doctored the real girl’s “diary.” Recently, The Incest Diary (2017) chronicled the abusive relationship between a real-life daughter and father, with anonymity the cloak to protecting the privacy of its writer detailing the molestation.

Writing anonymously avails a writer the ability to be incautious and unfiltered. It also gives readers an immediacy and frankness, which the anonymity seemingly affords—these books have hidden their authors because their truths are sometimes too powerful. Even though the key celebrities featured in Anon Pls are fictional, there’s enough mentions of real-life stars, like Sydney Sweeney and the rebooted Gossip Girl cast, to remind us of the real insider trading the real @deuxmoi has about stars to share on the internet.   

Another anonymous novel, some 25 years earlier, beguiled the American public for its seemingly veiled truths, and sits closer in approach and reception to Anon Pls than perhaps these other authorless books. Primary Colors (1996), a roman à clef covering the election campaign of a fictional southern governor for president, exploited parallels to Bill Clinton’s 1992 U.S. presidential campaign. The book was both anonymous and fiction (like Anon. Pls), and it used both of these facts to help distance itself from the apparent intel and truth it promised to share about the real 1992 presidential campaign (which its author obviously saw up-close and personal). Instead, its author said read between the lines. Readers invariably wanted access to the most hidden and gate kept parts of American society; a book, even a novel, that promised insight, however indirect, into Bill Clinton was all the more compelling to read about—anonymous or not.

This same tension exists within Anon Pls, which shares some home truths about the celebrity gossip network, all behind a veil of anonymous fiction. The @deuxmoi founders ask us to accept their continued anonymity in exchange for revealing access to today’s complicated and risky world of Hollywood gossip-sharing and enabler culture. The items might often be innocuous tidbits, like coffee orders or grocery purchases, but we’re told there’s a far more complicated story behind each anonymous screenshot. Whether or not you think that’s a fair exchange via Anon. Pls, it’s up to you whether you double-tap a @deuxmoi screenshot or reshare a blind item after you finish.  

‘Anon Pls,’ The Novel From @deuxmoi, Draws Power From the Cloak Of Anonymity