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Who Really Owns Your Social Media Handles?

· 4 min read

Who really owns your social media handles?

In today’s age of social media dominance, our online identities have become integral to both our personal lives and professional endeavors. From connecting with friends and family to building brands and businesses, platforms like Twitter and Instagram have given us the power to create digital personas that resonate with others where your user handle serves as a unique identifier in the digital world.

However, recent incidents have shed light on a fundamental question: Do we truly own our user handles on these platforms? Events, such as Twitter's rebranding and the subsequent takeover of the @X handle from a longtime user, shed light on the intricate web of ownership, accountability that revolves around these usernames, and how account models across the web work today.

NPR article on @X handle takeover

Borrowing vs. Owning

User handles, also known as usernames, are a string of characters that represent your digital presence on platforms like Twitter, Instagram, and TikTok. While users assume that the handles they create are tied to their accounts, the reality is more complex, often dictated by the terms of service set by the platform. These terms outline the rights and limitations users have over their usernames/accounts, establishing a virtual "landlord and tenant" relationship between you and the platform provider.

This relationship was exemplified when Twitter rebranded as "X," causing collateral damage as the company took repossession of user handles like @X, without notice or monetary compensation. This was echoed in cases like @Music, which was created by a user who curated their digital presence with this handle for more than 16 years.

@Music handle takeover

The notice from Twitter to this account holder reads:

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.

While this is certainly alarming, it’s not illegal. Most people don’t read the fine print of the Terms of Service agreements when joining these applications, and therefore don’t realize how much control these centralized organizations have over our data and digital identity.

The Problem & The Solution

The way the web stands today, each time we engage with online platforms that require accounts, we borrow an identity from them and then proceed to build a reputation and possibly brand associated with this borrowed identity. The recent turmoil experienced by Twitter has thrust the very nature of the web into the spotlight for those who previously might not have contemplated its issues. This is precisely why Decentralized Identifiers (DIDs) bear immense significance.

At the core of Web5's paradigm lie DIDs, which serve as identities that users own and control. DIDs provide individuals with distinctive, universally resolvable identifiers that persist through time and consistently remain under their control. Unlike conventional usernames, DIDs can't be confiscated by platforms, thus empowering users to truly possess their digital identities. This transformative shift adds an identity layer to the web eradicating platform-mediated handles.

Fortunately, Twitter automatically gave the user who created @X a new (albeit way less cool) handle. However, what if the company simply closed that account instead? The user would have lost not just their username, but potentially their entire digital existence on that platform if their profile had been wiped out.

While Twitter's actions towards these users might not have violated any legal boundaries, is this the way we truly want the web to be? Social media has transcended its original purpose of mere social interaction; it now intertwines with our livelihoods. When signing up for a new platform many of us adopt the same usernames. These usernames serve as both personal and professional branding tools, encapsulating not just our individual identities but also the essence of our businesses.

Web5 will revolutionize identity management by restoring it to us, the users, while allowing applications to focus solely on enhancing our user experience.

Twitter Space with Industry Leaders

Industry leaders Angie Jones, Kelsey Hightower, and Daniel Buchner discussed this very topic on a recent Twitter Space. Tune in to hear their thoughts on how Decentralized Identity solves this problem.