In 2007 Israel Meléndez set up a Twitter account under his first name.
This year he says 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." But Israel says it paid the porn dealer only $3,000 dollars.
Twitter user sells @Israel username for six-figure sum
State of Israel buys account from Spaniard despite Twitter policy against username squatting
By Giles Tremlett in Madrid • The Guardian
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."
Update 1:55 pm CDT – It turns out Israel is denying it paid Meléndez 6 figures for the account name and instead says it paid only $3,000. But there's a catch – Meléndez is in the porn business:
Israel denies paying porn peddler high sum for twitter ID
Miami-based Spanish citizen Israel Melendez opened the @Israel Twitter ID in 2007.
By GIL SHEFLER • Jerusalem Post
Israeli officials on Tuesday denied reports a pornographic Website owner was paid a "six-digit" sum for the @israel Twitter account, saying it took control of the moniker in return for $3,000.
Foreign Ministry spokesman Yigal Palmor told The Jerusalem Post the selling price was significantly lower than that originally asked by its owner, Miami-based Spanish citizen Israel Melendez, who also runs a porn Website.
"I won't go into the details of the negotiations but originally he asked for a five digit sum and all we paid him was $3,000, period," Palmor said.
Earlier, a New York Times story said Israel refused to divulge how much it paid while the British Guardian claimed it had agreed to a six-digit price tag.
According to media outlets, Melendez opened the Twitter ID in 2007 but soon discovered he was often harassed by other users who thought it belonged to the Israeli government.
Melendez freed the account on August 26th of this year, at an agreed time, so that Israeli officials could simultaneously take control of it.
The transaction illustrates the increasing importance governments and non-governmental organizations place on their digital presence.
Chaim Shacham, the man in charge of the social media department at the Israeli Foreign Ministry which now handles the @Israel Twitter account, believes the price was a bargain.
"Within hours we got thousands of new users," he said. "Not only does it give the ultimate in twitter recognition, but everything with the word Israel is brought up when users search the site."
Born in Chicago and a member of Israel's diplomatic corps since 1986, 49-year-old Shacham has been involved with Israel's advocacy efforts on the Web since the early days.
"In 1994 I had the pleasure of getting Israel.org, but since then the domain names were all taken," he recalled.
As the head of the social media department with 10 employees beneath him, he doesn't feel Israel is lagging behind –although he would like more resources.
Having said that, Shacham remained critical of the power the Web wields over public opinion. While some observers argue that the Internet gives democracies a natural edge over non-democratic government because it allows information to flow freely, undermining censorship, he said it can also work the other way.
"It's a double edged sword," Shacham said. "When you have a government speaking in one voice it can create clarity. With Western governments there are always voices which support and those who object. However, one thing the Web is susceptible to is the manipulation, especially with visual material. I think Israel has to work better with visuals. The logicals are getting out, but we need to get better visuals out, too."
[Hat Tip: Burich.]