Facebook’s photo-sharing platform Instagram, Twitter, and short video platform TikTok reportedly banned or took down hundreds of accounts that were hacked and sold for their short and accessible usernames. These single word usernames are known as “O.G. user names”. These usernames are valuable because they are eye-grabbing and are more visible on the internet than anyone else. An NYT report suggests that “cybercriminals buy and sell the user names on dedicated forums and messaging apps.” Also Read - Facebook introduces 'Reels' for users to post short videos, much like Instagram
The report further notes that the crackdown “follows a monthslong investigation by Instagram into ogusers.com, the primary forum in which these accounts are sold and traded.” Also Read - Instagram could soon bring a Clubhouse clone after Twitter, because why not
Why Instagram banned these accounts
After the investigation, Facebook-owned photo-sharing platform Instagram said that it “discovered that stolen account names were obtained through hacking, extortion, blackmail, and harassment — and then could be sold for as much as $40,000.” Also Read - Twitter Undo Send timer button coming, could save you from typos in your tweet
The report highlighted that such incidents have been happening for years now and “gone largely unchecked”. The same report revealed that Ogusers.com is also the “forum where last year’s gigantic Twitter hack that affected former President Barack Obama, Elon Musk and many other celebrities was orchestrated.”
The NYT report stated that “SIM swapping has been many cybercriminals’ favored method of obtaining valuable Instagram accounts and social media handles.” But cybercriminals have reportedly resorted to harassment and threats as their method to obtain control on these accounts.
Instagram stated that people behind the accounts ban had “subjected the owners of desirable Instagram handles to threats of swatting, revenge porn and violence.” The photo-sharing platform said that there were “nine cybercriminals behind the unauthorized seizure of hundreds of Instagram accounts.”
The platform banned middlemen who helped orchestrate the buying and selling of accounts on ogusers.com and Telegram. “Many of the middlemen are young people, including teenagers, who view short handles as status symbols,” the report noted.
After an alarming uprise in account theft and escalation to acquire these usernames, Instagram approached TikTok and Twitter to identify such accounts across platforms. a TikTok representative said in a statement, “As part of our ongoing work to find and stop inauthentic behavior, we recently reclaimed a number of TikTok user names that were being used for inappropriate account squatting.” The statement further noted, “We will continue to focus on staying ahead of the ever-evolving tactics of bad actors, including cooperating with third parties and others in the industry.”
Microblogging site Twitter confirmed that it also banned users for violating the platform’s policies on manipulation and spam. “This investigation was done in tandem with Facebook,” a Twitter representative said.