Did 50 Cent use Twitter to bilk fans for big bucks?

It’s a given that musicians and actors often have little compunction about sharing their political views with the world. The First Amendment is a beautiful thing, and should be cherished by all.

But when a star uses his or her popularity to dispense stock picks and makeshift financial advice? Now that’s a horse of an entirely different stripe.

Such is the quandary rapper 50 Cent — a.k.a. Curtis Jackson — posed a couple of days ago, when he used the ubiquitous Twitter to promote H&H Imports, a virtually unknown penny stock company in which he has a sizable financial interest.

The 35-year-old hip hop impresario, who made the phrase “get rich or die trying” a cultural mainstay, used the social networking site to plump for H&H’s prospects. “You can double your money right now. Just get what you can afford,” Fitty enthused to his nearly 4 million followers. “They are no joke, get in now,” he added in a subsequent tweet. Never mind that 50 Cent had many reasons — nearly 9 million, in fact — to get the Florida-based company’s stock as high as it could go.

One has to acknowledge that it’s somewhat refreshing to see a star use Twitter for something other than attacking an ex-paramour, or venting about whatever injustice rich celebrities suffer at the hands of a cold, cruel world that doesn’t appreciate or understand their genius. Having said that, there much that can be said about using a social networking platform to promote the illiquid shares of a questionable company. H&H, whose auditor recently raised questions about its ability to continue operating, is hardly a blue-chip stock: on a good day it trades at mere cents on the dollar.

Even during ideal times, investing in the stock market is serious business. As the economic boom years illustrated to sometimes devastating impact, unscrupulous companies and self-described financial professionals often lie in wait to lure novice investors into parking their cash into get-rich-quick schemes It’s not for nothing that the term “pump and dump” came to characterize the go-go days of the 1990s bull market, fleecing many investors. Buying assets shouldn’t be done on a whim, and certainly not based on the recommendation of a celebrity with a financial or business interest in the company. 50 Cent’s Twitter recommendation may not fit the textbook definition of pump-and-dump, but it appears to come awfully close to the line. It wouldn’t be surprising if he, or perhaps the executives at H&H, were forced to field inquiries from skeptical regulators.

Fitty did the right thing by back-pedaling his recommendation and warning his followers that H&H might not be right for them (he even scrubbed the original posts from his Twitter feed). However, it would have been better if he had never made the recommendation at all. Some of the company’s gorier details can be found over at the New York Observer, which in the latest quarter claimed losses of more than $1.3 million dollars, and $3.3 million to date. According to the report, H&H lent more than $100,000 to a firm whose owner is a blood relative of H&H’s chairman. And there appears to be some confusion as to how the company actually makes its money: while some outlets bill H&H as a headphone-distributor, others list the company’s profile as a handbag and purveyor of women’s products and services. Not exactly an exemplar of transparency.

Let’s be clear: 50 Cent’s tweet about a penny stock is hardly a scheme of Bernie Madoff-esque proportions. But the world wrought by the post-financial crisis and the bursting of the Internet bubble has rendered the average citizen more jaded about investing in a volatile and sometimes opaque market. The stock sector has become increasingly accessible to the small investor through the proliferation of day-trading and micro-cap issues. But the buying and selling of financial instruments are done in a complex and fast-moving environment. Not to mention that the events of the last decade have seen the destruction of untold trillions in wealth. None of this is for the faint of heart, and it’s certainly not risk-free.

Buying a stock based on the recommendation of a rapper — even one as wealthy as 50 Cent — is the rough equivalent of taking health advice from a short-order cook. Fitty would be better served leaving the stock picking and personal finance tips to the professionals, and would-be investors ought do the same. After all, would anyone buy a record produced by a certified public accountant?