Twitter has considered selling user names to generate new revenue as its owner, Elon Musk, tries to resuscitate the company’s business, two people with knowledge of the plan said.
Twitter employees have held conversations about selling some user names for the service since at least December, the people said. Engineers have discussed running online auctions where people can bid for the user names, which are the words, numbers or string of characters that follow the @ sign by which accounts are identified on the platform. Mr. Musk’s user name, for example, is @elonmusk.
It’s unclear if the project will move forward and if the plan affects all user names or only a subset, the people said. But Mr. Musk said last month that he wanted to start eliminating inactive accounts on Twitter and free up 1.5 billion user names. Only certain user names — such as those of well-known people, brands and popular names — may have value.
The social media company has been in turmoil since Mr. Musk bought it for $44 billion in October. Given the deal’s high price tag, the billionaire is under pressure to make the purchase a success.
Mr. Musk has since slashed expenses at Twitter, ordering layoffs, cutting other costs and stopping vendor payments. At the same time, he has tried finding new avenues to make money as Twitter experiences a sharp downturn in ad revenue. He has come up with a revamped subscription plan so users pay for verification badges, and the company has filed paperwork with the Treasury Department to process payments.
Inside Elon Musk’s Twitter
- An Unclear Succession Plan: Elon Musk said that he would resign as chief executive of Twitter. But it’s far from certain whether he would actually step down as the boss.
- Political Ads: Twitter said that it would begin relaxing its longstanding ban on political ads, allowing advocacy groups and elected officials to resume promotions focused on specific causes.
- Hate Speech: Problematic content and formerly barred accounts have increased sharply since Mr. Musk took over the company, according to data from groups that study online platforms.
- Account Suspensions: Twitter’s decision to suspend (and later reinstate) the accounts of several journalists set off a heated debate about free speech and online censorship.
Mr. Musk has said he has visions of creating “an everything app,” similar to China’s WeChat, which more than a billion people use to find news, connect to friends, make payments and order food.
Unique user names — also known as handles — can be lucrative. They are often claimed by early adopters of social media platforms and some people and brands are willing to pay thousands of dollars for them. Black markets have sprung up where people can buy “original gangster,” or O.G., user names that are desired because they feature a short word or a number and may have been abandoned by their owners.
Twitter and Mr. Musk did not respond to requests for comment.
Twitter’s rules forbid the buying and selling of handles. The trade has previously attracted hackers. In 2020, a 17-year-old in Florida was arrested after hacking Twitter to obtain user names to sell, compromising the accounts of Mr. Musk and celebrities.
Telegram, a popular messaging platform, said it would let people auction their handles in October.
Four days after acquiring the company in October, Mr. Musk tweeted that he would “definitely” look to purge accounts that have been inactive for a year, some of which have coveted user names. In December, he said Twitter would free up the names of accounts that were “obvious account deletions with no tweets & no log in for years.”
His plan ignited concerns among some who feared the company would delete the accounts of people who had died and whose Twitter pages were used to memorialize them. As of July — the last time the company reported financial figures — Twitter had nearly 238 million daily active users who saw ads.
Twitter also continues to lay off employees. Mr. Musk has reduced the company’s work force by about 75 percent from the 7,500 employees it had at the time he took over. Last week, new layoffs affected dozens of workers, including engineers on advertising and staffers working on trust and safety, three people with knowledge of the cuts said. The Information earlier reported the layoffs.
This week, Mr. Musk, who also leads the electric automaker Tesla, emailed Twitter employees saying he was available for meetings after finishing “most of my Tesla work.” He reminded them that he must approve all product design and engineering changes “no matter how small,” according to a copy of the note, which was seen by The New York Times.
“We are going to agonize until we achieve as close to the perfect product as possible,” Mr. Musk wrote.