Update (2:27 p.m.): The account is now back up. According to a Twitter spokesperson, it was "infected" for some reason.
When Wired recently launched its Vanish contest, a challenge to readers to locate reporter Evan Ratliff, who has gone on the "lam," it suggested that a major source of clues would be Ratliff's Twitter and Facebook accounts.
But as of Friday morning, his Twitter account (@theatavist) had been suspended for "strange activity."
Whoever finds Ratliff (and is the first to send his editor a photo of him) will win $5,000. And while there are a number of different ways to source up clues as to his whereabouts, one of them was supposed to be his Twitter account.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for information as to why the account was suspended.
The challenge is an interesting way to draw attention to a recent article of Ratliff's about the difficulties of disappearing from society. And in the original contest challenge, it was suggested that contest participants might draw some conclusions as to the methods the reporter would use--or wouldn't, as the case may be--from that story.
Of course, given that Ratliff is surely employing everything he can think of to stay below radar (theoretically not using credit cards or doing anything that might too easily give away his whereabouts) the Twitter account suspension might somehow be intentional. Then again, one would have to wonder what he would have had to do to get Twitter on board.
In the meantime, there are plenty of other ways to find clues. One is another Twitter account that was set up as a clearinghouse for information (@EvansVanished). Another is a Facebook account called The Search for Evan Ratliff, where fans are posting clues and working collaboratively to solve the puzzle.
This game, then, has many of the makings of a traditional alternate-reality game: online and offline components, widespread community involvement, clues spread across a wide swath of the Internet and a prize that may, in the end, have to be shared by a number of people who worked together.
And as is often the case with ARGs, this game, too, is in the service of promoting something else, in this case, Ratliff's larger article.
For now, those trying to find him and win the cash--and no doubt, bragging rights, as Ratliff said that to collect the prize, the winner has to agree to be interviewed on his or her methods--will have to do so without the assistance of his Twitter account. Then again, Twitter has been, with several periods of downtime.
Still, I really want to know what "strange activity" caused the service to take down the account. I'll update this article if I find out.