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On Twitter usernames with lots of numbers

by Darius Kazemi, Aug 31, 2020

There's a common belief that Twitter accounts with usernames like @jsmith12345678 must be bots, or trolls, or otherwise nefarious actors.

The thing is, since at least as far back as December 2017, the Twitter signup process has not allowed you to choose your own username! It instead gives you a name based on your first and last name, plus eight numbers on the end. You aren't prompted to pick a more distinctive username after that, and you can change it but you need to figure out how to do it yourself. (The December 2017 date was confirmed to me privately by someone who works at Twitter Design.)

This means that when you see a reply from someone with a username with a bunch of numbers in it, it's actually pretty likely that the user is simply someone who joined Twitter after December 2017 and either doesn't care to change their username, or doesn't know that they can change it, or doesn't know how to change it. In other words, it's probably a user who isn't very technically savvy.

Here's my claim: if someone who is not "of Twitter" and is not used to the platform joins Twitter in order to express their opinions, they are also likely to have a username like this. That doesn't mean they are operating in bad faith: it simply means they are new to the platform. Dismissing the opinions of people with usernames in this format as bots or trolls is ultimately a very rude way of saying "you're a newbie, you don't understand how to appear human to me here on Twitter, go away". Personally, I think we should be better than that.

Appendix: How Twitter signup works in August 2020

For the curious, I've screenshotted the entire mobile Twitter signup process as of August 31, 2020. We begin on a standard splash page.

Screen%20Shot%202020-08-31%20at%2009.08.42.png

We are then asked for our name (real name is implied here), and then email/phone, and then date of birth. We get sent a verification code, then are asked for a password, then a profile picture.

Screen%20Shot%202020-08-31%20at%2009.10.54.png Screen%20Shot%202020-08-31%20at%2009.13.38.png Screen%20Shot%202020-08-31%20at%2009.14.41.png Screen%20Shot%202020-08-31%20at%2009.15.11.png

And now we're on Twitter and can post stuff!

Screen%20Shot%202020-08-31%20at%2009.15.33.png

That's every step towards taking an account. They never once ask you to pick a username during signup, and you don't even know what your username is until you click on your profile image:

Screen%20Shot%202020-08-31%20at%2009.16.27.png

You'll see that I've been given a username that is: FirstName+LastName+EightNumbers.

If I want to change it, I have to click three levels deep into Settings →¬†Account →¬†Username, where I am prompted with more suggestions that have lots of numbers in them. I can also type my own username in here.

Screen Shot 2020-08-31 at 09.17.48 Screen Shot 2020-08-31 at 09.17.51 Screen Shot 2020-08-31 at 09.17.53

And that's how you change your username as a first-time user. I suspect that most people who aren't avid users of social media and aren't super technical don't even think to change their username. Why would they? Twitter works perfectly well, and shows their chosen name in conversations, without ever touching the username setting.