Elon Musk Took the ‘X’ Twitter Handle From a Photographer Without Asking

Twitter X Rebranding is Weird

Contrary to claims from some photographers, Elon Musk did not steal Twitter’s new plain X logo. However, the company did take the @x username.

As TechCrunch reports, the haphazard rebranding has seen X, formerly known as Twitter, secure the @x Twitter handle through a hostile takeover.

The handle was controlled by photographer Gene X Hwang since 2007, who operates the corporate photography and video company, Orange Photography.

Before losing his account, Hwang told TechCrunch that no one from X had contacted him about his account, but that he would be happy to talk to the company about selling his handle to them.

“I’m kind of waiting to see what might happen,” Hwang told TechCrunch. “And I would be willing to part with the handle if they made an offer for it that made sense.”

In Orange Photography’s Twitter — or X — bio, the company says that it was founded by @x and Jack Huynh.

In coverage published this afternoon, NBC News reports that Twitter took the @x username on Tuesday evening. In a phone interview with NBC News Hwang says that he suspected this “could be an outcome” and that he “wasn’t too upset.”

It is not clear how much the handle is worth, but it is worth more than the $0 that Twitter/X gave Hwang. CBS News reports that some people extort social media users to gain control over valuable handles, which the people then immediately sell to the highest bidder. Some accounts reportedly sell for as much as $25,000.

Hwang received an email from X that told him that it had taken his account. In return, Hwang has been offered “a selection of X merch” and “an exclusive visit to X’s HQ.” The message was signed “X,” which is a bit of salt in the wound, although Hwang does not sound all that wounded.

Hwang tells NBC News that he probably will not take up X on its offer to visit, despite being based in San Francisco himself.

The Account Was Not Technically ‘Stolen’

Per X’s Terms of Service, which like so many parts of X still have Twitter branding, explains that the company can take control over accounts at will — it owes Hwang nothing. The terms are described below.

Our Services evolve constantly. As such, the Services may change from time to time, at our discretion. We may stop (permanently or temporarily) providing the Services or any features within the Services to you or to users generally. We also retain the right to create limits on use and storage at our sole discretion at any time. We may also remove or refuse to distribute any Content on the Services, limit distribution or visibility of any Content on the service, suspend or terminate users, and reclaim usernames without liability to you.

The relevant Terms of Service page was last updated on May 18, 2023. According to archived versions of it, the note about the company reclaiming usernames was included before Musk’s takeover of Twitter.

That said, it is worth remembering that Musk threatened to reassign the @NPR account to “another company” in early May, which is the first time this term of service had been weaponized. At that time, Musk also said, “Our policy is to recycle handles that are definitively dormant. Same policy applies to all accounts. No special treatment for NPR.” Apparently there is no special treatment for Hwang, either.

The Controversies Are Piling Up

While Musk’s controversial moves have seemingly increased since acquiring Twitter last year, he is no stranger to ruffling feathers.

Given Musk’s unpredictable behavior, his rushed approach to rebranding Twitter is unsurprising. Reuters reports that Twitter’s rebranding “could be complicated legally.” Many companies, including Meta and Microsoft, have intellectual property rights with “X.” Nearly 900 active trademark registrations cover the letter X in the United States.

“There’s a 100% chance that Twitter is going to get sued over this by somebody,” says trademark attorney Josh Gerben.

While Hwang probably has little grounds for joining the fray and suing X for having taken his account, and he does not seem that interested in causing much of a fuss anyways, a multi-billionaire taking someone’s account instead of offering a fair price is not a great look.

The Future of X and Twitter is Murky

Even if Twitter’s rebranding goes according to plan, will X be as valuable as Twitter as a brand? Analysts doubt it.

As Twitter removed its name from its corporate headquarters in San Francisco earlier this week, an operation that lacked the requisite permits, experts think that the damage to the Twitter brand goes far beyond a building’s fa├žade.

“It has become a verb. That’s the holy grail,” says Forrester research director Mike Proulx to Washington Post. “This is a brand that has secured a place in our cultural lexicon. Musk has wiped out over 15 years of brand equity in the Twitter name.”

Before the maligned rebranding, Twitter’s ad revenue had already dipped 50 percent, per Bloomberg. Worse still, Fortune reports that by changing Twitter’s name to X, Musk may have decreased the value of his asset by up to $20 billion, an asset that was probably not worth anywhere near the $44 billion Musk paid for it, according to Musk himself.