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Is It Legal to Buy and Sell Twitter Accounts?

Posted by on February 22nd, 2016

This question comes up surprisingly often. People wonder; is their Twitter account worth anything? Could they sell it and profit, or would that get them in legal trouble?

This is actually several related questions. There are a lot of considerations to take into account for a complete picture of the answer.

  1. Is it against the law – local, state, federal – to buy or sell a Twitter account?
  2. Is it unethical or immoral to buy or sell a Twitter account?
  3. Is it against the terms of service for Twitter to buy or sell a Twitter account?
  4. Is your Twitter account worth selling, or is it worth buying an account?

Let’s take a look at each of them in turn, shall we?

Is it Legal to Buy or Sell a Twitter Account?

This is a tricky question to answer, because there are a lot of factors involved. You hardly think that it would be a crime in any state or country to sell or buy an account. It’s difficult to conceptualize being arrested for such a transaction. Some entities involved – PayPal, Twitter, a bank – might take umbrage, but that’s more likely due to the unnatural transaction, not due to the fact that a Twitter account is being sold.

On the other hand, there may be some legal precedent regarding the purchase and sale of a social media account. Do you actually own the profile, or do you just own the personal information? If the latter is the case, you technically wouldn’t be able to sell the account, because you don’t actually own it; you just own your own information, which you would presumably take when you when you sold the account.

Of course, it’s something of a moot point. Twitter has led to a lot of arrests, but none of them have ever been related to buying or selling an account. The fact that there are several high profile sites designed to facilitate the pricing, sale, and transfer of Twitter and other social media accounts just makes it all the more clear. There’s nothing legally wrong with selling an account, at least insofar as there has been very little precedent set and no legal battles involved. Until such time as someone is formally charged with a crime for selling an account, you can be safe in assuming that you won’t be arrested, at least.

Is it Against the Twitter Terms of Service to Buy or Sell an Account?

This is where things get a little fuzzy. You wouldn’t think so, to look at it, though. It seems pretty clear cut; either the terms of service say it’s not allowed, or they say nothing and thus allow it via implicit permission.

Selling Twitter Usernames

If you go just by that, you’d see it pretty clear cut. You can’t sell Twitter accounts. Here’s what Twitter actually says about it:

  • You cannot engage in any form of username squatting. Any time you register an account and it appears as though you registered it just to have it before some influential figure or entity might want it, that’s squatting. It’s a form of mild extortion. You’re saying “I own this, but you can have it, you know… for a price.” That’s against the Twitter terms of service.
  • Twitter determines whether or not you are squatting a username based on some historical factors, including how many accounts you have created, what you are doing with those accounts, and any past history of transferring ownership of accounts.
  • “You may not buy or sell Twitter usernames.”

This is all pretty clear cut, isn’t it? Well, that’s what the terms of service say, but that’s not the only factor you need to consider. You should also look at the past history of sales.

Exhibit A: Sites like this one exist. Twitter is a pretty powerful company. They can issue legal threats to get sites shut down when they don’t approve of them. Sure, some of them will ignore a threat until it’s acted upon, but that just means it will take a little longer for the site to disappear. The fact that several high profile account marketplaces and value estimators exist and have for years indicates that Twitter has a hard time enforcing this policy.

ViralaccountsExhibit B: Events like this one happen. The owner of @N had his GoDaddy account hacked and it was used to demand control of the Twitter handle as ransom. The Twitter handle, being just one letter, was the constant target of hacking attempts and offers to buy. People offered as much as $50,000 for it. @N never sold, and though he did turn over his account to recover his websites, it looks like he has control over it again.

Exhibit C: Drew Carey wanted @Drew on Twitter, instead of his current @DrewFromTV. The owner of @Drew, a man named Drew Olanoff, didn’t really want to sell. A lot of drama happened involving cancer, fundraising, follower bids, and promised donations to charity. Carey offered $25,000 to charity, then upped it to $100K, then offered a million if his follower count reached a million users. How did that end? Well, I don’t know. Both Drews own their own accounts, and I can’t find record of Carey making his promised donation, though I imagine there would have been a lot of outcry if he hadn’t.

Exhibit D: CNNBRK was a fan-run news account that curated CNN news stories, as a CNN breaking news sort of feed. CNN wanted to buy the account, but BRK didn’t want to sell, and Twitter didn’t want to allow CNN to buy it or co-opt it. CNN got around this, making all parties happy, by hiring the guy who ran CNNBRK as a contractor. I guess the lesson is that you don’t need to buy the account if you can buy the owner?

Exhibit E: JP Morgan Chase, the much-maligned financial juggernaut partially responsible for all hardship and suffering over the last decade, wanted to acquire the @chase name, which was owned by Chase Giunta. Giunta knew the Twitter rules: it’s against the TOS to sell an account. So he didn’t; he refused the offer. The bank then went to Twitter and, through some negotiating – and probably a payment to some Twitter execs – gained control over the account. Giunta? Nothing. Sell when you can: Twitter might just take your opportunity away.

So, Twitter officially doesn’t allow anyone to buy or sell accounts, but when it comes down to it and someone makes an offer, you might be wise to accept; Twitter might just pull the rug out from under you if you don’t. They also have no real way to police the low-level transactions that go on every day,

Is it Unethical to Buy or Sell a Twitter Account?

The ethics of such a transaction really depend on the situation. Who is offering to buy and why? Who are you and why are you holding the account? What risk is there if you don’t sell, or if you do?

  • If you’re a legitimate user of Twitter and someone is asking to buy your account, like a company that happens to share your handle as their name, you’re perfectly within good ethics to sell or deny as you desire. It’s a valuable commodity that both of you have claim to. If it pains you to break the terms of service, don’t sell. You run the risk of having the account transferred anyway, but that’s just a risk you take using a service you don’t control.
  • If you’re a legitimate user and someone is asking to buy your account, but they’re a no-name user or brand reseller who has no interest in the account themselves and just wants to make a profit, it’d be pretty unethical to sell. You’d be facilitating the “black market” of username sales, and you wouldn’t be helping a small business out; you’d just be facilitating the profits of someone who is likely to sell the account to a spammer.
  • If you’re a username squatter hoping someone will buy your account, well, you’re already on the unethical side of the coin. Who cares if Twitter’s terms say you can’t sell? Your entire purpose for having the account was to sell it.

There’s also the case where you might be the kind of person who excels at building accounts and just wants to profit from that knowledge. On top of offering your consulting services to teach others how to grow, you can grow and sell Twitter accounts as a business. You can technically be blocked from the site for doing so, but again, Twitter isn’t all that great at monitoring or tracking down that sort of abuse. You’ll probably be fine, even if you’re a little on the unethical site.

Is it Worth Buying a Twitter Account?

Now, this is where you have to start making a valuation judgment. You have a lot to consider! If you’re in the position to buy a Twitter account, it means one of two things.

  • You represent a business or entity, even just a personal brand, that wants to optimize their web presence by unifying or enhancing your social usernames.
  • You want to skip the annoying and tedious early growth and go right to a point where the account has a bunch of legitimate followers and content.

With the first option, it’s probably well worth buying an account. You get the brand representation you want, and all you had to do with pay for it. Of course, you might be setting yourself back if your current account has more of a following than the one you want to buy, but there’s no getting around that. You’ll just have to rebrand the old one as a dedicated customer service account and use the new one as a main account.

Drew Account

It’s a legitimate expense for a business to want to get the right branding throughout the web. There’s a reason sites like Facebook and Twitter have processes for taking over a username if it represents you but you don’t control it. Brand unification is important. That’s why if the owner of the account doesn’t want to sell, you can often work with Twitter to gain control over it anyways.

On the other hand, if you just want to skip building an audience, that’s a less legitimate reason to buy an account. On the other hand, you probably have more potential sellers, because you’re not necessarily focused on one particular username. You just want the metrics, and possibly the relevant industry. You can probably find someone willing to accept a few thousand bucks for their username.

Of course, you can also just grow your Twitter account legitimately. There are plenty of ways you can put marketing to work to grow an account, and honestly? You should be learning and using them anyways. What do you think will happen when you buy a Twitter account and don’t know how to use it? You’ll watch your audience disappear and your investment evaporate.

Is Your Twitter Account Worth Selling?

Now this is where we get into more questionable territory. If you’re trying to sell an account, you have to ask yourself; who is going to buy? There are a few options.

  • A business whose name you happen to have. The same thing goes on with domain flipping all the time; people buy domains and then look for companies to offer to sell them to. You’d be doing the same thing; looking for companies with your name and offering to sell.
  • Another user who wants to get a kickstart on a personal brand by taking over where you left off. Just make sure you don’t have your own reputation stacked up in this account; if the buyer turns it to spam or starts doing something that looks bad, you don’t want to have your reputation tarnished by their actions.
  • A third party flipper who essentially brokers your account for you. They buy it with the intent of flipping it for a profit and pocketing the difference. In the mean time, you might work out a deal as to how they will manage it, or you might just manage it yourself until they find a buyer.

What you have to figure out is how much is your account actually worth? This is the point where I would link you to one of the services that valuates an account, but many of the older, more reliable services have disappeared. The newer ones seem to want to use your account to advertise themselves – requiring authorization to use their app – so I don’t want to link them either.

However, I can say by whatever arbitrary metrics some of these sites run on, that you’re going to need to have tens of thousands of followers to sell on the open market. I’m seeing prices like $5 for an account with 300 followers. The going rate seems to be around $200 for every 5,000 followers, or about 4 cents per follower.

Supply and demand will play into this too. Some accounts are more valuable than others based on their tweet history, their profile setup, and their industry. No automated system will be able to take that into account. It really is all about hooking up with the right buyer at the right time.

Unfortunately, this tends to mean that you have to put a significant amount of work into buffing up an account before you can sell it for any reasonable return. Worse, you can’t even rig the system by buying followers and selling the account; buying that many followers will cost more than your sale value.

Buying and selling Twitter accounts may not be illegal, and it’s only questionably moral in some circumstances, but it’s firmly against the stated terms of Twitter’s service. If you’re willing to brave the possible repercussions – admittedly not many – you can try to buy or sell, but there are many pitfalls involved.

Join the discussion:
  1. Oladeji joe

    says:

    I love how you analyzed every single point, I’ve been trying to sell my Twitter account for some time now but just couldn’t find the right buyers. Any recommendations?

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