I’m sorry, Neill Blomkamp.
I was a big fan of viral marketing in high school, so much so that I co-created MovieViral.com, a website that followed viral marketing campaigns for films. MovieViral provided coverage of the marketing campaigns for films like Cloverfield, The Dark Knight, and TRON Legacy. Among the movies that had a successful viral marketing campaign was District 9, directed by Neill Blomkamp.
So why am I apologizing to Neill Blomkamp? Well, for some reason when I saw the name “Neill Blomkamp” for the very first time I thought to myself, “hey, this guy spells Neill with two Ls? That’s different! I wonder if he’s signed up for Twitter yet?” And then I registered the Twitter account @NeillBlomkamp.
You know this already but I’m not Neill Blomkamp. I’m Nick Butler. I’ve never directed movies and therefore had no business registering @NeillBlomkamp on Twitter. But let’s keep in mind that when this happened in 2009 I was 16-years old and didn’t know what I was doing.
After three years of doing nothing with the account, my friends convinced me that I should start to tweet cryptic messages that might trick people into thinking I’m the real Neill Blomkamp. There was no purpose, no real goal in mind, we just thought it would be funny.
Again, I’m sorry.
Today, impersonating someone to this extent is very much against Twitter’s rules (and U.S. law?) but at the time it was more of a gray area (is what I tell myself). So I continued impersonating Neill Blomkamp, and continued gaining new followers, until I had over 1,000 followers. My plan (or lack thereof) was coming together nicely. Also, I was terrified because I was not actually Neill Blomkamp.
After a couple months of poorly impersonating Neill Blomkamp I tried logging into the account for some hijinks but was denied…
I went to @NeillBlomkamp to see if the account had been suspended, figuring they caught me and the Twitter police were en route to my dorm room. But instead I found the account with a new photo and bio, with a blue check mark next to the name. My God, Twitter stole the account that I stole and gave it to real Neill Blomkamp!
Part of me felt robbed. Twitter took Neill Blomkamp’s account from me without warning, without even the courtesy of a message saying, “hey you can’t pretend to be another person on Twitter.” Or better yet, maybe registering someone’s Twitter handle is like catching a player’s first MLB home run and I’d be allowed to barter it for some cool District 9 merch and season tickets to AMC.
But honestly… I mostly felt relief. A strong feeling of, “thank god they’ve taken this account from me and given it to the person who obviously deserves it and who people really want to follow—director Neill Blomkamp.”
The Surprise Ending
But I was curious, what exactly happened to my Neill Blomkamp account? It had over 1,000 followers! The username @NeillBlomkamp was now controlled by actual Neill Blomkamp and I didn’t know what Twitter did to my account. So, I tried logging in using my email address. The problem is I didn’t remember what email address I used to steal Neill Blomkamp’s name on Twitter. After a few guesses and without luck, I tried one of my oldest email addresses.
Some important context: at the time my Twitter handle was @NicholasButler because some dolt had already registered @NickButler but never even tweeted. The account was just an egg—which somehow seemed like it was mocking me—with no tweets. It had been inactive since April 2008. This made me angry… nobody even calls me Nicholas!
So I tried one of my oldest email addresses and logged in.
The account I logged into was @NickButler.
Wait, what!? How did I log in to @NickButler? How is that even—oh, I’m the dolt who registered @NickButler and then never tweeted. Apparently, I had registered for Twitter in April 2008 before I knew what it was and promptly forgot. I don’t think there’s a word or expression that fully explains the emotion I felt staring at that blank egg from the other side. I was happy, sure, because I finally had the account I wanted. But I had also spent years angry at the person who registered @NickButler and never used it and that person was me all along. What do you even do with that?
So, in the end, I like to think I traded with Neill Blomkamp. We both got our accounts: he took @NeillBlomkamp from me and I took @NickButler also from me.
UPDATE: Happy to report that Neill Blomkamp accepted this very late apology: