The black market for prestige Twitter handles

If you’ve got a one word or, even more to the point, a one letter Twitter name, there’s a good chance there’s someone who wants it even more and will do anything they can to get it.

There was a lot of press recently about Twitter user @N, the hijacking of his name and, ultimately, his Twitter account being returned to him.

The linked article digs into the motivations for theft of Twitter handles, talks about the people who take them.

We usually think of name and reputation being tightly coupled. To steal your good name is to steal your reputation. But on Twitter, name and reputation are separable – and both, for different reason, are targets for thieves.

An account is valuable for its following – the people its reputation has gathered. By hijacking an account, you can get a message out to a particular audience. The Syrian Electronic Army, for example, has been known to take control of high-profile accounts like those run by CNN, The Onion, and FC Barcelona among others. Once in charge, the group sends out messages relating to its agenda, such as: “DON’T FORGET: Al Qaeda is Al CIA da. Funded, armed and controlled.” That way, it can reach audiences of millions, many of whom will not have heard of the SEA before and certainly don’t follow its Twitter account.

Hackers who steal Twitter usernames have very different motivations. They don’t want the account – they have their own account, with their own friends following them. Their interest is in having a cool new username to show off.

Interesting read.