On Friday, Feb. 14, a senior executive from Vox Media managed to break into a sports blogger’s Twitter account and change the login credentials, effectively stealing it—and its nearly 10,000 followers—from the 23-year-old sports blogger who created the account and was primarily responsible for growing its following.
Lucas Hann started covering the Los Angeles Clippers for the SB Nation site Clips Nation in 2011. He was one worker in the army of thousands of lowly-paid workers and “volunteers” that the Vox Media-owned SB Nation used to churn out thousands of posts across hundreds of team-specific sites in order to generate pageviews and revenue for the company, which is reportedly valued at $750 million, down from a 2015 valuation of $1 billion. (Vox Media is currently mired in two federal collective-action lawsuits in which plaintiffs say Vox Media misclassifies workers as volunteers and contractors and doesn’t pay fair wages.)
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“I started doing that in high school because I thought I wanted to get into journalism,” Hann told VICE.
In June 2015, Hann created a Twitter account—@ClipsNationSBN—so that he could better engage with people reading his work; previously, his blog posts were being posted on Twitter through the now-former site manager’s personal Twitter account. (VICE reviewed the Twitter confirmation email from when Hann created the account.) In August 2015, SB Nation offered Hann a meager monthly stipend to take over as site manager.
This arrangement persisted with relative ease, despite the ongoing labor issues regarding SB Nation’s hordes of unpaid and underpaid workers, for nearly five years, until December 2019, when California’s AB 5 law went into effect. Aimed at protecting gig economy workers like Uber drivers, it also stipulated that freelance writers couldn’t write more than 35 posts per year; some SB Nation team site workers hit that number in a month. Rather than convert those workers to employee status, SB Nation’s response to the law was to end its contracts with all California workers. Hann said Vox Media told him he could stop working whenever he wanted, but that he would be paid through January. It also offered him the chance to stay on as a paid site manager through March, which he agreed to do, while also preparing to launch a new Clippers site, 213Hoops. Part of this preparation was renaming his Twitter account to @213Hoops, which he did in January. (Other former SB Nation contractors, like those who used to run the Golden State Warriors team site, have also started their own websites after being laid off from SB Nation.)
“I received an email from [Vox Media’s SB Nation “team brands director”] John Ness on January 31 telling me to give up the username and password,” Hann said. “I did not.”
When Hann created the account in June 2015, he did so on his own; no one from SB Nation told him to do it. He also created it before he had entered any sort of employment contract with Vox Media. Hann said his first contract with Vox Media didn’t even say anything about social media.
“[While at SB Nation] of course I would promote Vox Media content through an account that I owned because we were working together, but it was still my account because I created it before I worked for Vox Media,” Hann told VICE. “That contrasts with the Clips Nation Facebook account, which was created and already established by the time I took over. I did a lot of work on the Facebook account, growing it from 5,000 followers to over 110,000 followers, but it was their account to begin with. Whereas the Twitter account, I created before I worked there and was using it to promote their content while we worked together.”
Last Friday afternoon he got an email that alerted him to the fact that the email associated with his account had been changed to one belonging to a Vox Media vice president. Hann said he logged on immediately, changed the email back to his own, and added extra security.
“I changed the email to my work email thinking it would be more secure, changed the password to a long randomized sequence, I added two-factor authentication, revoked third party access for tweet deck and other apps, and logged out of all sessions,” Hann said.
An hour later Hann received an email telling him that the email had been changed again to the same Vox Media email address. He changed the email back again.
“At that point, I had no idea what was happening, so I sent an email to Twitter support saying that the email had still been able to get into my account,” Hann said, adding that Twitter answered with an unhelpful form response. Around 9 pm, he said, he got an email saying that his two-factor authentication had been disabled and he could no longer access his account.
“The only possibility I can think of is they got in with the help of Twitter Support,” Hann said.
(VICE asked Twitter if the company has helped Vox Media gain access to the Twitter account. If so, how did they decide that Vox Media owned the account? If not, how was a Vox Media exec able to bypass two-factor authentication and other security measures to access another person’s account? VICE asked if Twitter users can trust their accounts are secure and if Twitter would hand over an individual's Twitter account to a corporation that claims it owns it. Twitter initially told VICE they would be in touch, then a spokesperson said that Twitter was doing an internal review of what happened with the account, which could take one to two hours. Hours later, the spokesperson said the review was not complete and they couldn't answer any questions. If Twitter does provide a statement, VICE will update this story accordingly.)
[Update 6 pm ET]: A Twitter spokesperson sent VICE the following statement: "The account was recovered using established protocol, given the new dispute regarding ownership of the account we are continuing to investigate and will keep all involved parties updated."
Hann posted about what happened on his personal Twitter account. Just after midnight, he was removed from the SB Nation platform without notice. “Glad to know someone is up past midnight removing contractors from the sites they are contracted to run,” he wrote on Twitter. He woke up the next morning to find that Twitter had suspended his personal Twitter account for 12 hours for tweeting the email address of the Vox Media VP who had broken into his account.
The suspension on his personal Twitter ended, but still he had heard nothing from Vox Media or Twitter about his account.
A Vox Media flack sent VICE the following statement:
Vox Media legally retains the rights to SB Nation site names and all social media accounts associated with those sites, including Twitter accounts. This is clearly and explicitly outlined in all contractor agreements.
I sent Vox Media followup questions, asking if the company could point to the language in their contractor agreement that says an account created before someone started working for Vox Media becomes Vox Media property as a result of their signing the agreement. I also asked whether they enlisted Twitter’s help in breaking into the account. The flack sent a new statement in response:
Vox Media does not share its private contractual agreements.
We try to work individually with each of our contractors on any transition plan, but in this instance, despite our attempts to contact the contractor, we did not hear back on our request.
When asked if this experience has soured his experience of working at SB Nation and Vox Media, Hann said it hadn’t.
“I don’t think this changes the way I feel about Vox Media or SB Nation, because I already felt as negatively about my relationship with them as I could.” Hann said. “It’s one of those things where you can’t even be disappointed, because when a company treated someone a certain way over nine years working with them, you come to expect behavior like this.”
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