As everyone ran to export and delete their Twitter data in waves when Apartheid Clyde came to town, I sat back and watched with a chuckle from my cozy perch on my Mastodon instance. You see, I’d already done all that months ago, as the site had continued to fester into a sad pile of misery, even without a lot of the banned bad actors. And there were rumors that ol’ Space Karen wanted to throw money he didn’t have at buying the site, simply to prove how small… erm… fragile his ego is. I was high and dry with a place to watch the show begin. And as we’ve seen, it’s been a dumpster fire driving a car wreck into a freight train about to scream off an unfinished bridge. And lo, we all laughed, for the failure was hilarious.
Until we learned Twitter’s data was for sale on the dark web. Oh, we laughed about it, those of us who never DMed private info, those of us who knew we’d deleted everything. Until the data came back to haunt us in the weirdest ways.
I joined Twitter in 2006, and naturally opted for a simple name that was available at the time: gb. I’d grow to regret that decision. As the site’s popularity exploded, I got notifications for every typo of 2gb; for every person posting their team’s football schedule or score when it was in Green Bay; for people who mistook @ handles for # hashtags (strangely, when referencing UK politics). As Doug Bowman and Dave Rutledge (@stop and @_, respectively) and I would often commiserate, it sucked having the name we wanted, but a critical mass of people made using it insufferable.
I spent most of my 20s and into my 30s as an early adopter of any new thing, and so I started accumulating plenty of early adopter names. I’m
- greg on dribbble,
- gb on Twitter and others, and
- I missed out on either with Instagram, so I got bowers and later gbbowers for a public profile.
It was that bowers account on IG where I got my first blunt demands from randos (always guys, funny enough) who wanted my username.
“Yo, let me have it.”
“No, I’m using it. Fuck off.”
“I’m an actor / athlete / musician, and I’m about to blow up… I need your username.”
“Our last name is common as fuck, dude. If you blow up, people will find you. Be gone.”
Then I started getting messages about someone “needing to speak with [me] about a business opportunity” which was inevitably “sell me the name.” Ironically, this aligned pretty closely with the crypto scam becoming a fad. In fact, there is currently a dude messaging me and posting on my public IG account that he wants the bowers name, and that “you’re not using it.” Generally, I roll my eyes and ignore them now, but even for money, I’ll hold on to it just out of pure spite, which is my superpower.
All that is somewhat annoying, but I can easily ignore it. But the Twitter data leak turned out to bite me in the ass. But wait… I deleted everything from my account, what good would some rando find in there about me?
Oh. Wait. My personal email was associated with the account. And I used 2-Factor Authentication like any person with a mind for security might, but Twitter didn’t use any 2FA auth apps… they insisted on texting it to me. Texting. Oh shit, my phone number is there, tied to that short username. I hadn’t deleted my account because, well, spite is also my weakness, and I didn’t want some christian-nationalist jumping on it.
Naturally, I only pieced this together when my phone buzzed at damn near midnight. A text from a foreign country code.
“Hello, I want to purchase your Twitter account. I will give you $1,000 in cryptocurrency or via PayPal. [name], Japan”
I had scarcely time to read the text before a call came from the same number. I declined it immediately, and they left no voicemail. A few beats later and I realized what had happened, and blocked the number. Even if this person was genuine about paying me a grand, the realization that this person had used a hacked database sold on the dark web as a means to contact me directly told me all I needed to know.
I’ve since had another text from a different person with a more vague sort of “I need to talk to you” tone, and some emails from what looks like different people. All within the past few days.
My decision to hold on to the handle despite moving away from Twitter has been largely driven by spite—why close the account and have some hateful person or party claim it? But if these contacts persist or become worse, what is the point?
I’ve long held that if I were to get rid of the name, I’d likely give it away to some person or group that could use it in a manner more closely aligned with my values. The obvious answer is the Green Bay Packers, as they are the only community-owned nonprofit major sports team in the States, and enough people accidentally use the handle when talking about them that it might be useful for them. More specifically, if they didn’t move away from @packers, I would want them to use it for the Green Bay Packers Foundation, who do a lot of good for the people in Wisconsin.
I am currently sorting out my favorite options, but if Twitter is to survive, I’d rather someone uses my name for good.
Update, 2 Feb: turns out it is incredibly difficult to reach out to a football team’s social media group. Oh, well… the birdsite exodus continues.