(Note: My Twitter account was restored several days after this column appeared thanks to some human intervention. Which is what Twitter and other internet businesses need to offer to everyone.)
I’ve been off Twitter since Feb. 12 — surely my longest sabbatical since joining in 2008. But it’s not by choice. First my account was attacked, apparently by Turkish hackers. Then I botched the process of resetting my password. Now I’m stuck in limbo, unable to revive my account on my own yet clueless about how to get an actual human being at Twitter to help.
If you think this is special pleading, you’re right. I confess to hoping that someone at Twitter (or someone who knows someone) sees this and contacts me. Yes, I have a love-hate relationship with Twitter. Yes, I’ve been known to refer to its troll-infested backwaters as a cesspool. But as long as it exists, I need it to keep up on conversations that are important to me and to promote my work.
If you visit my Twitter page, you’ll see that everything is intact — my 16,000-plus followers, my cherished “verified” check mark, my 62,000 tweets (a record of which I am not proud), and my nine lists. But it might as well go in a scrapbook for all the good it’s doing me. I can look, but I can’t touch.
As a culture, we have become utterly dependent on the free tools and platforms that have come with the digital age. Yes, I’m well aware of what they say about free: If you’re not paying, then you’re the product. But Twitter, Facebook, and the rest offer the kind of convenient networking (too convenient, argues Tim Wu in The New York Times) that is now difficult to live without.
Never mind their considerable downside, including the way these platforms — especially Facebook — enabled the Russians to interfere in our political process. Social media is how we connect in these early decades of the 21st century, and if you’re shut out from those connections, you’re at a huge disadvantage. Unfortunately, the reason social-media platforms are profitable is that they require very few paid employees. I know of no way that you can contact a customer-service representative at Twitter or Facebook. You’ve got to rely on automated help. And I’ve gotten myself into such a mess that Twitter’s bot service just isn’t going to get the job done.
Would you like to know what happened? It’s not an especially gripping story, but I’m going to tell you anyway. You might learn from it.
At about 6:30 a.m. on Feb. 12 I logged onto Twitter on my phone and saw that I had received a direct message from a fairly prominent editor. His DM promised news and was accompanied by an odd-looking link. But because it seemed to be from someone I knew, and because I had heard there were cutbacks under way at his organization, I made the dangerous assumption that the link was legitimate. I clicked. Nothing happened. I clicked again. Still nothing. So I forgot about it.
Later that morning I received an email from a colleague at another university informing me that my direct messages appeared to have been hacked. The evidence: a DM he had received from me (or, should I say, “me”) that was identical to the one I’d gotten from the editor. At that point I stopped what I was doing and reset my password. I use 1Password, which generates long strings of gibberish that are essentially unbreakable. I saved the new password and tried to log in to Twitter again.
Except that I hadn’t saved it. My old password was dead and I had no idea what my new password was. So I followed Twitter’s instructions for resetting my password again. The options I was given were to supply my Twitter name, which only brought me back to the same menu; my cellphone number, which I had never turned over in the first place; or an email address associated with my account.
And this was the moment when I realized I was in over my head. Twitter recognized none of my email addresses. Why? I have no idea. Maybe they were wiped out by the hackers. Maybe I’m overlooking something obvious. The point is that I need someone at Twitter to perform an exorcism, and I don’t know how to make that happen. Maybe once or twice a day I try to log in using my old password, hoping something miraculous has occurred. The message I get: “We detected unusual activity on your account. To secure your account, please change your password before logging back in.” Gah.
Is all of this my fault? Of course. I shouldn’t have clicked on that link. I should have provided Twitter with my cellphone number ages ago. I should have pasted my new password into a Word document until I was absolutely sure that I had saved it. The thing is, people do stupid things. They shouldn’t be left without options.
So if anyone from Twitter is reading this, I want to say something from the bottom of my heart: Won’t you please help?