Social media marketing takes on many different forms, with some people working on behalf of companies to increase their overall outreach while others work hard to build trendy pages, share trendy videos, and promote their hobbies to the rest of the world. Both pursuits are worth ones, but there’s one practice that might rub both Twitter and Facebook the wrong way: Selling a popular profile for profit. This problem is actually pretty common, with many people wishing to “flip” pages after they’ve turned them into major cash machines. While such a practice is legal in the offline world when it comes to flipping houses and even brick-and-mortar businesses, selling a Facebook or Twitter profile is generally frowned upon and specifically prohibited by each company. Here’s a look at why such activities simply aren’t okay with major social media websites.
It’s All a Question of Ownership in the Online World
For years, major corporations and individual users have waged battles throughout the world’s courts, sparring over who owns specific parts of the Internet. Do domains belong to the buyer or to the registrar? Do social media accounts belong to the user or to the company providing the service? What about pictures, videos, comments, blog posts, and more? Each of these things is backed up by precedent and quite a few court rulings, including the selling and exchanging of social media profiles. Additionally, each social media website offers a specific take on this behavior in their terms and conditions when registering a new account or creating a new fan page.
On Twitter, the practice is specifically prohibited in the site’s terms and conditions presented to the user upon registration. The company specifically disallows the selling of individual accounts to any buyer, even if both parties are willing to make that transactions. Sites like Tweexchange, which were founded to facilitate the sale and exchange of such user accounts, have been repeatedly sued and forced to shut down since the practice they’re promoting is essentially illegal.
The same thing is true on Facebook, where accounts are worth even more than their Twitter counterparts on average. The site’s terms and conditions forbid users from making a profit on either their personal Facebook profiles or their fan pages through the use of any third-party tools or private listings. Unlike Twitter, Facebook does allow for an official transfer of administrative rights and responsibilities to another user within the website’s interface, but this can only be done for free.
The reason for these strict prohibitions on the for-profit sale and transfer of a Facebook or Twitter profile is simple: According to numerous court rulings and several laws, Facebook and Twitter actually own the user profiles that are maintained on their servers. While the responsibility for maintaining and updating each account lies with the user, they simply don’t have the right to sell that which they do not own. This contrasts with selling domain names for a profit, which legal because domain names are purchased from a registrar and treated as the seller’s property immediately thereafter.
What’s a Potential Seller to Do with an Old Account?
Unfortunately, there is simply no money to be made when looking to sell a Facebook or Twitter account. The right thing to do is to simply offer to transfer the account to an interested party, giving them the full rights and responsibilities of administering the page, posting new updates, and interacting with the page’s existing fans. For those administrators who have paired the page with Facebook ads and other earnings, it might actually be a good idea to stay on as an “assistant” administrator with the page, earning a share of the proceeds from successful contextual ads on Facebook or Google searches. This is not possible on Twitter, however, where a full relinquishment of the account is necessary in order to give an outside party control over its tweets, design elements, and targeted advertising.
Profile Squatting: How to Handle a Compromised Social Identity
For those companies who are considering buying a Facebook page or Twitter username because it’s highly relevant to their business, it might be worth considering who currently owns the account, what is posted on the account, and whether or not that account was registered to capitalize on the company’s own brand. This practice is known as squatting, and it’s outlawed in both online and offline environments. If a user registered a given page or username specifically to lure users based on another company’s image, that account can be seized and closed based on squatting provisions in the site’s terms of service.
Both Facebook and Twitter have specific provisions in their terms and conditions that forbid the practice of squatting, even if the account in question isn’t intended to be built up and then sold to the highest bidder. For those businesses that have a legitimate issue with such an account, the appropriate course of action involves contacting Facebook or Twitter directly to report the problem. In many cases, the user will simply relinquish the account. In a limited number of more difficult squatting issues, Twitter or Facebook will forcibly shut down the account and allow the interested party to reclaim the username for their own business use.
Transfer, Don’t Sell: Keep Social Media Practices Legal
Selling profiles simply isn’t allowed, since it encourages squatting and tends to deprive social media sites of precious revenue. If the time has come to pass the torch to a new administrator on either Facebook or Twitter, make sure to do so in a legally permitted, nonprofit way. For companies considering purchasing a profile because their username was “stolen,” be sure to understand the nature of squatting and address it through the appropriate channels rather than giving into the temptation to simply buy the account outright.