Israel purchases @Israel Twitter handle from porn site owner

Countries as diverse as the United States and North Korea have all struggled at the nexus of statehood and social media. Until now, none have had to purchase the Twitter handle of their country’s name from the owner of a porn site. That dubious honor goes to Israel, which recently purchased the user name @israel ...

564605_EDIsrael2.jpg
564605_EDIsrael2.jpg

Countries as diverse as the United States and North Korea have all struggled at the nexus of statehood and social media. Until now, none have had to purchase the Twitter handle of their country's name from the owner of a porn site. That dubious honor goes to Israel, which recently purchased the user name @israel from Israel Meléndez, a Spanish man living in Miami, who registered the name back in 2007, early in the microblogging website's history.

According to the New York Times, Meléndez struggled with his account because every tweet posted provoked anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments. "My account was basically unused because I was getting dozens of replies every day from people who thought the account belonged to the state of Israel," Meléndez said.

Countries as diverse as the United States and North Korea have all struggled at the nexus of statehood and social media. Until now, none have had to purchase the Twitter handle of their country’s name from the owner of a porn site. That dubious honor goes to Israel, which recently purchased the user name @israel from Israel Meléndez, a Spanish man living in Miami, who registered the name back in 2007, early in the microblogging website’s history.

According to the New York Times, Meléndez struggled with his account because every tweet posted provoked anti-Semitic and anti-Israel comments. "My account was basically unused because I was getting dozens of replies every day from people who thought the account belonged to the state of Israel," Meléndez said.

The Spanish newspaper Público first reported on the transaction, noting that Twitter helped facilitate, even though the company has a policy against username squatting (although CNN did the same last year). Meléndez said that the payoff was a six-figure sum. Israel refuted that number. According to Yigal Palmor, a spokesman for the Israeli Foreign Ministry, the sum was actually $3,000. "I won’t go into the details of our negotiations but originally he asked for a five digit sum and all we paid him was $3,000, period," Palmor told The Jerusalem Post.

On August 31, the old official address of the Foreign Ministry (@israelMFA) broadcast the tweet: "The IsraelMFA twitter account name has been changed to @Israel. Look for us here: twitter.com/Israel."

Israel has been trying to increase its social media presence, with recently opened accounts on Facebook, Flickr, and YouTube.

This appears to be more a case of mistaken identity and not internet-era extortion, such as the case of whitehouse.com. In 1997, that particular domain name was created as an adult and political entertainment site, whose existence sparked a letter of objection from the real White House.

Suzanne Merkelson is an editorial assistant at Foreign Policy.

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