Careening from one questionable decision to another, the social media platform formerly known as Twitter (SMPFKAT) has commandeered the username "@music" from a man who'd spent 16 years building a following roughly 500,000-strong.
It seems Elon Musk has his own plans for the handle, so he simply it seized it with a callous disregard for the user who owned it from the early days of the platform. That user is open-source software developer Jeremy Vaught. "Callous disregard" applies not only to the theft itself, but to how Musk's team executed it.
Out of the blue, Vaught received a message from the platform that we're now supposed to call "X. With a chillingly dispassionate voice that one can imagine being voiced by HAL 9000 in 2001: A Space Odyssey, the platform wrote:
"Hello. The user handle associated with account @Music will be affiliated with X Corp. Accordingly, your user handle will be changed to a new user handle."
Imagine being in Vaught's situation and receiving that news, that way. It gets worse. In the message simply signed by "X," Vaught was told his handle was now @musicfan. X also offered another three positively lame alternatives: @musicmusic, @music123 and @musiclover.
Under X's latest terms of service, every user is at risk of their handle being seized by the platform:
“We may also remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services, limit distribution or visibility of any Content on the service, suspend or terminate users, and reclaim usernames without liability to you.”
When the provision about reclaiming usernames was added, it was welcome news to many who thought the power would only be used to release inactive names back into the wild. Alas, X is now aggressively using it to serve its own agenda at the expense of innocent users.
Elon taking @‘s one OG at a time 😭 pic.twitter.com/xbLibKHgje— 𝘎𝘢𝘮𝘦𝘴 (@GamesXBL) August 4, 2023
This is the second seizure to make news. Upon his decision to trash the established Twitter brand in favor of X, Musk seized @X from a user who, like Vaught, had held it since 2007, the year after Twitter's launch. Not a joke: X pushed that user, San Francisco photographer Gene Hwang, into the handle @x12345678998765. So far, he's kept it.
In perpetrating that particular act of legal plunder, X was at least empathetic enough to offer some modest perks: "You will also be provided with a selection of X merch and an exclusive visit to X’s HQ to meet members of our team," the platform told Hwang.
We have to wonder to what extent Musk considered how these moves could undermine his quest to turn X into a place where content creators drive revenue for themselves and the platform. Anyone contemplating such an endeavor has to consider the risk that a carefully-chosen handle could be seized by Musk on a whim, severely damaging the content-creator's brand while misdirecting traffic from existing references to the handle all across X and the internet.
Interest in ad rev share by content creators has far exceeded our expectations, so will take a few more days to process.— Elon Musk (@elonmusk) August 5, 2023
Major payouts coming soon!
“I was definitely proud of having built @music to a half a million followers give or take,” says Vaught. “And I’m a software developer. I had been thinking about what I could build around this to potentially capitalize on my audience.”
Vaught still has the potential to become a monetized-content creator on X, albeit with a dramatically inferior brand. However, much more than a prospective exemplar of Musk's vision for the platform, Vaught is now the deeply sympathetic central character in a cautionary tale for anyone who thinks about building a future there.