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Randonautica: What Is It and Are the Stories Real?

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The app led one person to a friendly dog in the desert and another to a field of wildflowers. One young woman, after making her college decision, followed the app to a field where her school’s initials had been mowed into the grass.

And then there were the friends who followed the app to a suitcase full of human remains.

That is the gamble one takes with Randonautica, which claims to channel users’ “intentions” to produce nearby coordinates for exploration. Think: The law of attraction meets geocaching.

Randonautica makes a few asks of users — “What would you like to get?” “Choose your entropy source” — before prompting them to “focus on your intent” while it fetches coordinates. This process relies on location settings and a random number generator, which, despite what the company says, cannot be directly affected by human thoughts.

Many of the places users have been sent to since Randonautica became available in February are unremarkable: parking lots, grasslands, many bodies of water. However, interest has been driven by the spooky and often synchronistic “randonauting” stories many have shared on social media. While several of them appear to be fake, others have raised some cause for concern.

The creators of Randonautica say the app has evolved beyond their intentions. But what were those intentions?

Before Randonautica, there were the Randonauts: Strangers who swapped stories about their bot-assisted adventures into the unknown. They wanted to open their minds to the world around them and make meaning of life’s coincidences.

The bot’s code came from a group of programmers called the Fatum Project who were interested in, among other things, using the technology to ensure the randomness of online gambling outcomes.

Joshua Lengfelder, 29, discovered the Fatum Project on the messenger app Telegram in January 2019, in a fringe-science chat room. He absorbed the project’s theories about how random exploration could break people out of their predetermined realities, and how people could influence random outcomes with their minds.

Mr. Lengfelder, a former circus performer, thought the code and its underlying ideas could be used to explore the relationship between consciousness and technology. In February 2019, while caring for his father, who had just suffered a stroke, he created a Telegram bot that used the Fatum Project’s code to generate random coordinates. In March, he created a Randonauts subreddit, which now has 125,000 members. And in October, a developer named Simon Nishi McCorkindale created a web page for the bot.

That same month, Auburn Salcedo, the chief executive of Presley Media, an agency that creates brand integrations for TV, found the Randonauts on Reddit and offered to help Mr. Lengfelder get the word out. On Jan. 24, Ms. Salcedo and Mr. Lengfelder incorporated Randonauts, L.L.C., with her as C.O.O. and him as C.E.O. (She remains the chief executive of Presley Media, which handles P.R. for Randonautica.) They released a beta version of the app on Feb. 22.

Since its release, Randonautica has been downloaded 10.8 million times from the App Store and Google Play, according to the research firm Sensor Tower. After a few months of rapid growth, much of it propelled by TikTok, its downloads have started to taper off, according to data from the analytics firm App Annie.

In an interview in July, Mr. Lengfelder described Randonautica as “a multimedia storytelling platform” that encourages “performance art.” He said the overwhelming response has not surprised him.

“I kind of figured it was inevitable,” he said. “Because basically what it is is like a machine that creates memes and legends, and it kind of virally propagates on its own.”

On social media, the most popular randonauting videos feature eerie and seemingly dangerous situations that are dramatized through editing. Some creators have capitalized on the trend by posting exaggerated or false accounts of their randonauting adventures. The 27-year-old YouTuber Josh Yozura, for instance, claimed to have been led to a crime scene. (Mr. Yozura did not respond to multiple requests for comment.)

Ms. Salcedo denounced such videos in an interview with the YouTube creator Billschannel. In a phone interview this month, she spoke further about the proliferation of fake videos. “It’s so hard to manage, because people are really taking creative liberties after seeing how much traction the app is getting in that fear factor,” she said.

On first use, Randonautica offers a brief intro and some tips (“Always Randonaut with a charged phone,” “Never trespass”) before prompting you to share your location.

Then it will ask you to choose which type of point you would like it to generate (the differences between which only matter if you believe the app can read your thoughts) before fetching coordinates from a random number generator. The user can then open that location in Google Maps to begin their journey.

Randonautica throws big words like “quantum” and “entropy” around a lot. Its creators believe that quantum random numbers are more likely to be influenced by human consciousness than non-quantum random numbers. This hypothesis is part of a theory Mr. Lengfelder refers to as “mind-machine interaction,” or M.M.I.: It posits that when you focus on your intent, you are influencing the numbers.

“Basically if you’re looking for any kind of peer-reviewed, scientific consensus, that does not exist yet in the literature,” Mr. Lengfelder said in a TikTok video in June, speaking about the theory. Instead, he pointed to the work of Dean Radin, a prominent figure in the pseudoscientific field of parapsychology, and the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research (PEAR) program, which has cited Dr. Radin’s research, as evidence.

Randonautica claims that a 1998 PEAR experiment supported the idea that people can control random number generation with their thoughts. That study was published in the Journal of Scientific Exploration, which includes work about the paranormal, spirit possessions, poltergeists and questions about Shakespeare’s authorship. In the study, PEAR’s researchers wrote that the experiment was far from conclusive.

“It looks like they saw some kind of correlation, but they admit that it was weak and it needed to have further research associated with it,” said Casey Schwarz, an experimental physicist and assistant professor at Ursinus College who reviewed Randonautica’s claims for this article. She said she did not know of any quantum system that could be influenced by human thoughts.

Lisa Fazio, an assistant professor of psychology at Vanderbilt University, said that the more synchronous experiences were likely coincidences colored by confirmation bias, or the tendency to look for information that affirms one’s beliefs and tune out contradictory evidence.

She pointed to a story shared on Reddit, in which an Australian poster described being led to a map of the London underground. “Things like that happen all the time, it’s just that you don’t notice that map of London if you didn’t have the intention already to be thinking of London,” Dr. Fazio said. She also noted that coincidences are far more common than people realize.

Mr. Lengfelder dismissed such criticisms, stating that the app was not created to prove a hypothesis. “I would say it’s not some kind of academic science work,” he said. “We’re more like inventors than academic scientists.”

An update coming in August will feature improved graphics and, Mr. Lengfelder said, a custom random number generator that would have a higher “rate of entropy.” “So technically our M.M.I. effects should be higher,” he said. Of course, as noted above, M.M.I. is a theory that is not supported by science.

Daniel J. Rogers, a physicist who has worked with quantum random number generators, called Randonautica’s M.M.I. theory “completely absurd.”

“There is no quantum physics here,” said Dr. Rogers, a founder of the Global Disinformation Index. “This is just people using big science words to sound magical. There is no actual science here.”

Randonauting became popular partly because of reverse psychology; young people approach it with a sense of foreboding. “Do not go randonauting” has become a popular title for videos.

Several people who shared unsettling stories about the app say they have since sworn it off. Adrian Chavez, 21, was led to an ominous beach near his home in Orange County, Calif. A video of his journey, posted on TikTok in early June, has been viewed 4.5 million times.

“I deleted the app right after that and never used it again since,” Mr. Chavez said in an interview in July.

The 18-year-old TikTok user who posted the viral video about finding a suitcase of human remains on a Seattle beach, @UghHenry, wrote in the comments of his video: “The moment I got back home, I broke down. I still can’t sleep.”

In an interview with The Atlantic, Mr. Lengfelder was blasé about the story, which was covered by news outlets including KING 5 News and The New York Post. “It’s not the best press, but I’m not really that upset about it, because it’s kind of cool,” he said. “I kind of wish it was me who found it.”

Some adults have expressed concerns about the app’s lack of safety precautions for children. Though Randonautica’s terms of use specify that anyone who is a minor must obtain parental consent to use the app, such consent is collected by email, making it easy for young users to bypass.

Know and Tell, a child protection education program with the Granite State Children’s Alliance in New Hampshire, has posted on Instagram telling parents to keep young people off the app, or at least supervise their use.

“It was very apparent that these were young teenagers that were going to undisclosed areas in the middle of the night,” said Jana El-Sayed, the outreach project manager for the Granite State Children’s Alliance. She described these circumstances as “a perpetrator’s dream.”

Concerns about human trafficking and personal data use are addressed in Randonautica’s F.A.Q., which specifies that all location data is anonymized and only made available to developers, and that starting locations are never saved by the app.

Pokémon Go, which uses augmented reality to encourage local exploration, has handled safety concerns by putting PokéStops and Gyms in notable, public locations, and encouraging users to remain vigilant.

Randonautica’s safety tips are similar: Avoid dangerous areas, do not trespass, try to explore during the day or with friends. Randonautica’s website repeatedly urges users to “use common sense.” The latest version of the app will feature multiple screens and pop-ups reminding users to use the app safely.

Randonautica’s executives say they don’t understand why people would use the app to seek out risk or harm.

“You wouldn’t go out on a walk and say, ‘Let me think about seeing death,’” Ms. Salcedo said in an interview, referring to a viral TikTok video in which an 18-year-old user claims she set her intention as “death” and then happened upon a shooting victim.

“Yeah, ‘Let’s see if I get stalked,’” Mr. Lengfelder added.

Ms. Salcedo said Randonautica’s legal counsel reassured her and Mr. Lengfelder that the app would not be liable for any user misconduct.

“Is Google Maps liable too, for giving them directions?” Mr. Lengfelder said. “At a certain point, if somebody wants to really go out of the way and harm themselves, they’re going to do it. Whether it’s with Randonautica or not.”


Ben Decker contributed reporting.

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Microsoft confirms plan to buy TikTok as Trump weighs options

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The president had also been weighing options over the past few days to force Beijing-based parent company ByteDance to divest in TikTok in the United States because of national security concerns, according to people familiar with the talks who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss them publicly.

Microsoft confirmed it will “move quickly” on discussions with ByteDance and said it has given the U.S. government notice of a possible acquisition of the U.S. assets of TikTok.

This is the first time Microsoft has confirmed that the company is in talks for Microsoft to purchase TikTok operations in the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand.

“This new structure would build on the experience TikTok users currently love, while adding world-class security, privacy, and digital safety protections,” the tech giant said in its post.

TikTok and the White House did not immediately respond to requests for comment.

If it goes through, the acquisition could dramatically shift the Big Tech landscape, adding a legacy giant into the scramble for social media users’ attention. Microsoft, currently valued at $1.55 trillion, is one of the most valuable companies in the world and is one of the only ones positioned to take on such a purchase. Microsoft was conspicuously absent from a landmark antitrust hearing on Capitol Hill on Wednesday, when Facebook, Google, Apple and Amazon chief executives testified on their companies’ power.

Buying TikTok would put Microsoft in a powerful position to compete with Facebook and Google’s YouTube, which operate dominant social media sites. Microsoft has focused mainly on enterprise software for the past decade, though it does own professional networking site LinkedIn.

Its absence from the social media market could also make it more likely regulators will approve Microsoft buying TikTok.

If Microsoft buys TikTok, it would also solve an ongoing issue for Republicans and Trump, who has attacked TikTok as a prominent target in his crackdown against China amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The continuing discussions, which Microsoft said it expected to conclude by Sept. 15, hinged largely on buy-in from the Trump administration.

Trump told reporters Friday night that he planned to ban the app in the United States, and had earlier indicated he would do so in retaliation for what he saw as China’s role in spreading the coronavirus.

“As far as TikTok is concerned, we’re banning them from the United States,” Trump told reporters aboard Air Force One on Friday.

But Saturday morning, TikTok officials were still waging a public campaign to garner favor with officials and fans, and assured users in a TikTok video that the platform was “here for the long run.” Passionate TikTok users took to the app all weekend to express their dismay and encourage their followers to find them on other social media sites.

Late last week, Trump was considering two main options to change the ownership of TikTok. One was through a process led by the Committee on Foreign Investment in the United States (CFIUS), which began investigating an acquisition by ByteDance of Musical.ly in 2017. The president considered signing an order to divest the company on Friday, according to the people familiar with the talks.

Trump also considered using a 2019 executive order to designate TikTok a national security threat and bar American companies and workers from doing business with it, the people said Friday.

Trump and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have previously been critical of TikTok’s Chinese ownership, saying it’s a threat to national security and threatening to ban it. That prompted ByteDance to start to explore a sale, although the company would prefer to retain TikTok if possible, another person familiar with the talks, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to speak publicly, previously told The Washington Post.

Microsoft said it informed the CFIUS of its TikTok talks. The company also said it might bring in other American investors to take a minority stake in TikTok as part of the deal.

Microsoft said in its blog that it would “ensure that all private data of TikTok’s American users is transferred to and remains in the United States.” Ensuring American data privacy has been a main crux of lawmaker’s arguments against Chinese ownership of TikTok.

TikTok has continually insisted that it already keeps U.S. user data stored in the country and that it does not hand over data to the Chinese government.

TikTok, which has been downloaded more than 2 billion times according to research firm Sensor Tower, lets users make short videos that show them dancing, cooking, pulling pranks or taking political stances. It is especially popular with teenage users, who have used the platform to take aim at Trump.

That included earlier this summer, when teens encouraged each other to reserve tickets to Trump’s June rally in Tulsa, hoping to inflate the expected number of attendees even though they never planned to show up. The Trump campaign said that it had no impact on the event.

Correction: Microsoft is one of the most valuable companies in the world. This article previously said it was the third most valuable company in the world.

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AirPods vs. AirPods Pro: Should you spend the extra $100?

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Apple currently makes two true wireless earbud models: the second-gen AirPods (which list for $159, but are generally sold for closer to $139 in the US) come with optional wireless charging, and the $249 AirPods Pro, which feature active noise cancellation. I personally prefer the AirPods Pro and rated them higher than the standard AirPods in my review. But they cost around $110 more than the base AirPods without wireless charging and not everyone likes their noise-isolating design, which leaves you with a silicone ear tip pushed slightly into your ear canal. The looser fit of the AirPods has its advantages if you don’t want to spend $250 on earphones, especially ones that are easy to lose. 

AirPods vs. AirPods Pro Comparison

AirPods AirPods Pro
List price $159 $249
Active noise cancellation No Yes
Noise-isolating design No Yes
Battery life (between in-case charges) 4.5 hours 5 hours
Wireless charging In $199 model Yes

That, in a nutshell, is why some people aren’t sure about which AirPods to buy. And while there are plenty of excellent non-Apple true wireless earbuds out there — just peruse my list of the best true wireless earbuds of 2020 — you’re presumably here because you’re on the fence about the AirPods or AirPods Pro. Let’s see if we can help you make a decision.

Read more: Best cheap true-wireless earbuds of 2020

Sarah Tew/CNET

Simply put, the main reason to buy the standard AirPods is to save money. The model with the regular charging case currently sells for $139 while the model with the wireless charging case sells for $169 ($199 if you buy at the Apple Store). Occasionally, the prices dip to $130 and you can find “renewed” options for as low as $120. I personally think wireless charging is a bit overrated (when it comes to headphones, anyway), so I wouldn’t pay the extra money for it. If I was buying the standard AirPods, my goal would be to pay as little as possible for them.

As I said, some people don’t like having silicone buds stuck in their ears. That’s the reason why so many people like the original AirPods. They just sort of nestle in your ear — and when they fit right, they’re really comfortable. And a few folks at CNET have told me that even though the AirPods Pro sounded better, they still preferred the fit of the regular AirPods.

I’m among those who can’t get the standard AirPods to stay in my ears securely without using third-party stabilizing wings (and you have to take off the wings to get the AirPods back in their charging case, which is a nuisance). That’s the main reason I prefer the AirPods Pro. 

The biggest drawback of the standard AirPods’ “open” design is that it allows ambient sound to leak in. They sound decent in quieter environments — and their performance as a headset for making calls is almost as good as the AirPods Pro — but the listening experience deteriorates in noisy environments.

Read our Apple AirPods 2019 review.

Sarah Tew/CNET

The standard AirPods fit some people’s ears perfectly (some people have no trouble running with them), but plenty of people can’t get a secure fit. If you’re in the latter group, I highly recommend you spend the extra money on the AirPods Pro. The AirPods Pro design simply fits more ears than the original AirPods. I hesitate to call it a universal fit because there are always exceptions, but they’re close.

As noted, the only issue is that some people simply don’t like having silicone buds stuck in their ears, even if they’re as soft and pliant as these tips are. Also, some people are sensitive to the pressure sensation, albeit it slight, that’s a byproduct of active noise canceling.

The first thing you notice about the AirPods Pro is that they simply sound better than the standard AirPods because they have more bass. The reason they have more bass is largely due to their new noise-isolating design and new drivers that are tuned for that design. The standard AirPods sound decent enough in quiet places but due to their open design, they just don’t do well when confronted with external noise — the bass frequencies get drowned out. The AirPods’ noise cancellation, which is effective, also helps with external noise, and the combination of the seal of the tips and the ANC means they sound much better in noisier environments such as city streets.

The standard AirPods are quite good for making calls. With the release of the second-gen model last year — the ones discussed above — Apple improved their noise-reduction capabilities, particularly wind noise. The AirPods Pro have three microphones on each bud, one of which is a beamforming mic that’s designed to pick up your voice. They also have similar noise-reduction capabilities, plus a vent system that’s not only supposed to relieve some of the pressure that can build up in your ear from a noise-isolating design coupled with noise-canceling features, but can help cut down on wind noise a tad, an Apple rep told me. More importantly, you can simply hear callers better because of the Pros’ noise-isolating design.

The AirPods Pro will soon have another advantage. In June, Apple announced at its Worldwide Developers Conference that the AirPods Pro will get a big upgrade this fall with the release of iOS 14: a “spatial audio” feature that simulates surround sound. 

Both the AirPods and AirPods Pro will get automatic switching between Apple devices, another new feature in iOS 14, but only the AirPods Pro will get the virtual surround feature.

Read our Apple AirPods Pro review.

Read more: Apple’s new spatial audio feature should have Bose and Sony worried

More AirPods coverage


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From Minecraft Tricks to Twitter Hack: A Florida Teen’s Troubled Online Path

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For Graham Ivan Clark, the online mischief-making started early.

By the age of 10, he was playing the video game Minecraft, in part to escape what he told friends was an unhappy home life. In Minecraft, he became known as an adept scammer with an explosive temper who cheated people out of their money, several friends said.

At 15, he joined an online hackers’ forum. By 16, he had gravitated to the world of Bitcoin, appearing to involve himself in a theft of $856,000 of the cryptocurrency, though he was never charged for it, social media and legal records show. On Instagram posts afterward, he showed up with designer sneakers and a bling-encrusted Rolex.

The teenager’s digital misbehavior ended on Friday when the police arrested him at a Tampa, Fla., apartment. Florida prosecutors said Mr. Clark, now 17, was the “mastermind” of a prominent hack last month, accusing him of tricking his way into Twitter’s systems and taking over the accounts of some of the world’s most famous people, including Barack Obama, Kanye West and Jeff Bezos.

His arrest raised questions about how someone so young could penetrate the defenses of what was supposedly one of Silicon Valley’s most sophisticated technology companies. Mr. Clark, who prosecutors said worked with at least two others to hack Twitter but was the leader, is being charged as an adult with 30 felonies.

Millions of teenagers play the same video games and interact in the same online forums as Mr. Clark. But what emerges in interviews with more than a dozen people who know him, along with legal documents, online forensic work and social media archives, is a picture of a youth who had a strained relationship with his family and who spent much of his life online becoming skilled at convincing people to give him money, photos and information.

“He scammed me for a little bit of money when I was just a kid,” said Colby Meeds, 19, a Minecraft player who said Mr. Clark stole $50 from him in 2016 by offering to sell him a digital cape for a Minecraft character but not delivering it.

Reached via a brief video call on Sunday from the Hillsborough County Jail in Tampa, Mr. Clark appeared in a black sleeveless shirt, his hair tumbling into his eyes. “What are your questions?” he asked, before pushing back his chair and hanging up. He is scheduled for a virtual court appearance on Tuesday.

Mr. Clark and his sister grew up in Tampa with their mother, Emiliya Clark, a Russian immigrant who holds certifications to work as a facialist and as a real estate broker. Reached at her home, his mother declined to comment. His father lives in Indiana, according to public documents; he did not return a request for comment. His parents divorced when he was 7.

Mr. Clark doted on his dog and didn’t like school or have many friends, said James Xio, who met Mr. Clark online several years ago. He had a habit of moving between emotional extremes, flying off the handle over small transgressions, Mr. Xio said.

“He’d get mad mad,” said Mr. Xio, 18. “He had a thin patience.”

Abishek Patel, 19, who played Minecraft with Mr. Clark, defended him. “He has a good heart and always looks out for the people who he cares about,” he said.

In 2016, Mr. Clark set up a YouTube channel, according to the social media monitoring firm SocialBlade. He built an audience of thousands of fans and became known for playing a violent version of Minecraft called Hardcore Factions, under user names like “Open” and “OpenHCF.”

But he became even better known for taking money from other Minecraft players. People can pay for upgrades with the game, like accessories for their characters.

One tactic used by Mr. Clark was appearing to sell desirable user names for Minecraft and then not actually providing the buyer with that user name. He also offered to sell the capes for Minecraft characters, but sometimes vanished after other players sent him money.

Mr. Clark once offered to sell his own Minecraft user name, “Open,” said Nick Jerome, 21, a student at Christopher Newport University in Virginia. The two messaged over Skype and Mr. Jerome, who was then 17, said he sent about $100 for the user name because he thought it was cool. Then Mr. Clark blocked him.

“I was just kind of a dumb teenager, and looking back, there’s no way I should have ever done this,” Mr. Jerome said. “Why should I ever have trusted this dude?”

In late 2016 and early 2017, other Minecraft players produced videos on YouTube describing how they had lost money or faced online attacks after brushes with Mr. Clark’s alias “Open.” In some of those videos, Mr. Clark, who can be heard using racist and sexist epithets, also talked about being home schooled while making $5,000 a month from his Minecraft activities.

Mr. Clark’s real identity rarely showed up online. At one point, he revealed his face and gaming setup online, and some players called him Graham. His name was also mentioned in a 2017 Twitter post.

Mr. Clark’s interests soon expanded to the video game Fortnite and the lucrative world of cryptocurrencies. He joined an online forum for hackers, known as OGUsers, and used the screen name Graham$. His OGUsers account was registered from the same internet protocol address in Tampa that had been attached to his Minecraft accounts, according to research done for The Times by the online forensics firm Echosec.

Mr. Clark described himself on OGUsers as a “full time crypto trader dropout” and said he was “focused on just making money all around for everyone.” Graham$ was later banned from the community, according to posts uncovered by Echosec, after the moderators said he failed to pay Bitcoin to another user who had already sent him money to complete a transaction.

Still, Mr. Clark had already harnessed OGUsers to find his way into a hacker community known for taking over people’s phone numbers to access all of the online accounts attached to the numbers, an attack known as SIM swapping. The main goal was to drain victims’ cryptocurrency accounts.

In 2019, hackers remotely seized control of the phone of Gregg Bennett, a tech investor in the Seattle area. Within a few minutes, they had secured Mr. Bennett’s online accounts, including his Amazon and email accounts, as well as 164 Bitcoins that were worth $856,000 at the time and would be worth $1.8 million today.

Mr. Bennett soon received an extortion note, which he shared with The Times. It was signed by Scrim, another of Mr. Clark’s online aliases, according to several of his online friends.

“We just want the remainder of the funds in the Bittrex,” Scrim wrote, referring to the Bitcoin exchange from which the coins had been taken. “We are always one step ahead and this is your easiest option.”

In April, the Secret Service seized 100 Bitcoins from Mr. Clark, according to government forfeiture documents. A few weeks later, Mr. Bennett received a letter from the Secret Service saying they had recovered 100 of his Bitcoins, citing the same code that was assigned to the coins seized from Mr. Clark.

It is unclear whether other people were involved in the incident or what happened to the remaining 64 Bitcoins.

Mr. Bennett said in an interview that a Secret Service agent told him that the person with the stolen Bitcoins was not arrested because he was a minor. The Secret Service did not respond to a request for comment.

By then, Mr. Clark was living in his own apartment in a Tampa condo complex. He had an expensive gaming setup, a balcony and a view of a grassy park, according to friends and social media posts.

Two neighbors said that Mr. Clark kept to himself, coming and going at unusual hours and driving a white BMW 3 Series.

On an Instagram account that has since been taken down, @error, Mr. Clark also shared videos of himself swaying to rap music in designer sneakers. He was given a shout-out on Instagram by a jeweler to the hip-hop elite, with a picture showing that Mr. Clark, as @error, had purchased a gem-encrusted Rolex.

Mr. Xio, who became close friends with Mr. Clark, said the April run-in with the Secret Service shook Mr. Clark.

“He knew he was given a second chance,” Mr. Xio said. “And he wanted to work on being as legit as possible.”

But less than two weeks after the Secret Service seizure, prosecutors said Mr. Clark began working to get inside Twitter. According to a government affidavit, Mr. Clark convinced a “Twitter employee that he was a co-worker in the IT department and had the employee provide credentials to access the customer service portal.”

For help, Mr. Clark found accomplices on OGUsers, according to the charging documents. The accomplices offered to broker the sale of Twitter accounts that had cool user names, like @w, while Mr. Clark would enter Twitter’s systems and change ownership of the accounts, according to the filings and accounts from the accomplices.

The hack unfolded on July 15. A few days later, one accomplice, who went by the name “lol,” told The Times that the person they knew as the mastermind began cheating the customers who wanted to covertly buy the Twitter accounts. The hacker took the money and handed over the account, but then quickly reclaimed it by using his access to Twitter’s systems to boot out the client. It was reminiscent of what Mr. Clark had done earlier on Minecraft.

When Mr. Clark’s online acquaintances learned he had been charged with the hack, several said they were not surprised.

“He never really seemed to care about anyone but himself,” said Connor Belcher, a gamer known as @iMakeMcVidz who had previously teamed up on a separate YouTube channel with Mr. Clark before becoming one of his online critics.

Susan Jacobson contributed reporting from Tampa, Fla. Sheelagh McNeil and Jack Begg contributed research.

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