I’d like to think of my Twitter account as a culturally valuable place. Certainly I post a fair amount of puppy GIFs and silly jokes, but it’s also the central hub of my everyday identity, especially in journalism.
But I didn’t understand that it could ever have a monetary value — even in fake money — until I saw my account on Stolen, a social media tap game turned public market that made a splash on Product Hunt this month and has since become an in inescapable portion of certain parts of Twitter.
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The core gameplay essentially sucks in all of the available public data from Twitter and assigns values to user names. Players on Stolen are encouraged to buy these users with currency. The catch is that usernames depreciate in value over time — and, of course, you can’t own yourself.
So, that’s it. You buy people, and then other people pay more than you to take that person away. This drives up the value of certain usernames — say, more than 54 million for @justinbieber. And that, the app tells me, is what is supposed to be fun.
Although I can see where the inherent stickiness of Stolen exists — urging you to keep ‘ownership’ over your favorite Twitter accounts or entering into stealing wars with friends — but I can’t necessarily grok the motives for doing so. To be honest, it felt particularly weird going on an app I only knew about a few days ago to find people who follow me on Twitter have driven up my value. That people are sparring back and forth to take ownership of my account.
It’s supposed to be a compliment, but it’s hard not to see the strings.
The commoditization of users without their knowledge can probably sit ill with some people — when you “steal” the username of someone who isn’t on the app, you can push to invite that person onto the platform through Twitter. If you do and they accept the invite, you get extra currency to use in the game.
This seems fine on paper, but in practice this is the only way that some people might hear about Stolen Understanding that your username and persona are being traded in a fictional marketplace without your consent can be potentially jarring, especially if Twitter can be an at-times hostile and unfriendly place for you.
This leads to the second issue, which is that Stolen actually crafts a potential opening for harassment. If you own a username, you can pay in-game currency to give that username a “nickname” developed by you. And only you can change it — not even the person whose username you stole.
It’s not too much of a mental stretch to see how this can be used to harm someone personally. And, to my knowledge, there’s nothing you can do to change the privacy settings of your user account. There is an ability to report someone, but you can’t opt out of the game. Incidentally, something just like it emerged just last week.
Of course, Stolen is designed in good fun, and for many people, it just might be. If you’re interested in buying your heroes, you can request an invite.
➤ Stolen! [App Store, Invitation Only]