While Twitter tries to work out how to make money, a Spaniard has sold his username on the site for a six-figure sum. In 2007 Israel Meléndez set up a Twitter account under his first name. This year he was approached by the state of Israel, which wanted to buy @Israel from him for a quantity of dollars that, he told Spain’s Público newspaper, included “five zeroes”.The sale went through despite Twitter’s stated policy of preventing username squatting and Meléndez, who runs adult websites for a living, said Twitter itself had advised the Israeli government on how this could be done.
“All the business of getting in contact with Twitter was done by them [Israel],” Meléndez said. “I never saw any emails [between them] and Twitter never contacted me, but if the @Israel account is open and working I imagine it means that Twitter had no problem with the transaction.”
Meléndez said he set up the @Israel account when he stopped using another Twitter name to escape the attention of an ex-girlfriend. He barely used the account, which was soon flooded with messages criticising the policies of the Israeli government. Only recently did he decide to look at it again and found a message from the office of the Israeli prime minister, Binyamin Netanyahu, asking whether it could be bought.
He said he negotiated the deal with the Israeli foreign ministry’s Chaim Shacham. “The negotiating lasted for two months but once everything was clear it was all simple. I went to the Israeli consulate in Miami and from there, by telephone, we closed the deal and the transaction.”
He sold Israel his password, allowing them to close his account down and immediately reopen it, moving the Israeli foreign ministry’s @israelMFA account to @israel on 26 August. “They got on the phone, I gave them the password, they saw that it worked and they gave me a cheque at the consulate,” he said from his home in Miami.
Israel is not the first to find a way to purchase control of a Twitter account. The cable news service CNN was one of the first to manage it.
Twitter explains its rules on selling usernames like this: “Unless you have been specifically permitted to do so in a separate agreement with Twitter, you agree that you will not reproduce, duplicate, copy, sell, trade or resell.”