When the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority announced last week it would soon switch its Twitter handle from @mbtaGM (short for “general manager”) to @mbta, the move struck most people as a total no-brainer.
But the transition to a more straightforward Twitter handle was the result of a years-long effort to unseat a social media imposter, said Kelly Smith, spokeswoman for the MBTA.
It’s called “Twitter squatting,” and it occurs when a person registers for a well-known name on Twitter before the name’s rightful owner has the chance to snap it up.
Years ago, when the T sought to create a Twitter account, their No. 1 choice was off the table. The @mbta handle belonged to someone else, a user who never sent a Tweet, never uploaded a profile picture, and followed no one.
It was weird that someone wanted to hang-on to such a high-profile Twitter handle and not use it for evil, Smith said.
“They weren’t doing anything with it — they weren’t saying anything bad or pretending to be us,” Smith said. “It was just sitting there, which was good — but also frustrating.”
For a long time, Smith said, T officials have been trying to get the name back in their control.
Does poaching a Twitter handle required some sort of bribery, with a T staffer sliding a large wad of cash to a nerdy-looking techie in some sinister back room somewhere? Not so, Smith said — the T appealed to Twitter’s customer service to help reclaim the handle. (Twitter has an “impersonation policy” that prohibits “portraying another person in a confusing or deceptive manner,” though it’s unclear whether that policy was applicable here.)
Finally, a couple weeks ago, MBTA staff got word: @mbta was theirs to keep. They could automatically switch their more than 45,000 users to the new account.
“It’s a very exciting transition,” Smith said.
And in case you’re wondering: They’re keeping @mbtaGM. Just to be safe.