On October 2nd, 2020, I was blissfully chatting with the group members for one of my classes in an Instagram chat. I exited the chat, deciding to delete some apps, and when I returned to Instagram, a message popped up asking me to put my phone number in. I did as instructed and immediately received a text message with a numeric code. Once again, I did as directed and typed in the code I had been sent. Seconds later, my Instagram feed switched to a dark screen, showing a message that read, “Thanks for providing your info. We’ll review your information and if we can confirm it, you’ll be able to access your account in approximately 24 hours.” Though I was disappointed that I couldn’t access my account right away, and confused because I had typed in the correct code, I continued about my day and decided that I would check back later on.
For days I googled, “Instagram disabled account”, “how to get disabled account back”, “Instagram support” and watched Youtube videos of the same name. After one week, my stress level increased as I hated being left in the dark. The most appalling part of it all was that I wasn’t the only one. Hundreds if not thousands of people were flooding Instagram’s Twitter & Facebook comments with pleads for their accounts back. Some had been locked out for weeks and others for months, and for me, I began to question if I would be on the same long journey as all the rest.
I became angry, not only for myself, but for others who’s memories, businesses and personal information were practically being held hostage with no explanation and no acknowledgement. I dug deeper into my research, scrolling through dozens of tweets and Instagram comments that addressed the mass deactivation. I started to tweet and post on Facebook, directly tagging both companies in an attempt to pressure them from multiple platforms. What really sparked my anger was when I discovered that Facebook had deleted my post and the posts of others asking about the deactivation problem. Not only was the company failing to address the issue that had been going on for almost a month, but they were actively trying to make sure it didn’t become large scale news.
What really saved me was when I contacted a family member who was able to find a Reddit thread titled, “Instagram Disabled Accounts *PLEASE READ* all we know so far.” Discovering this thread sent a wave of relief through my body, making me realize that I wasn’t alone in this and that there was a solution. The original post included a speculation as to why this mass deactivation had occurred and some advice for those who had their accounts deactivated. The best part of it all was that there were many words of reassurance throughout the thread, explaining that we would be able to get our accounts back.
On October 23rd, 2020, exactly three weeks after my account had been deactivated, I received an email from Instagram claiming that my account was reactivated. Skeptically, I made my way to my Instagram app and was pleased to see that my account was there, as if nothing had happened. I’m not sure if I had done anything specific to garner this surprising reactivation or if it was just pure luck, but I wasn’t going to just forget about the whole thing.
Now there were several things that I learned from this experience:
Firstly, how important my Instagram platform is to my networking abilities. I never considered myself particularly dependent on social media platforms, specifically Instagram; being able to go days without checking my timeline. It took a situation where I was deliberately blocked from accessing my account for me to realize the weight that this app puts on my shoulders. I put time and effort into my posts and stories in order to create a semblance of a portfolio so that I market myself for the future.
Secondly, I became aware of the sheer power social media platforms have over my personal information. In the blink of an eye, my most endearing photos could have been lost forever and connections I had built over the process of eight years, gone. Oftentimes, when signing up for social media accounts, we tend to brush through the policies and are quick to click “agree”. However by doing so, we are allowing companies to have control over our personal information (including photos, stories and chats) that we believe are private and are dictated by us only. It is crucial that people understand what they are signing up for and do not indulge in naiveties. Your information is never private or yours only.
Thirdly, I learnt that Instagram may as well have the worst customer service in the game. There were zero direct emails or phone numbers that I could use to contact to get help, the “appeal forms” wouldn’t go through as a result of server errors and the company continues to do nothing in terms of addressing the problem. For weeks I, and many others, were unable to speak to a human being and instead were stuck with automated responses on every platform. Not only were the appeal forms a struggle to submit, but the ones that did obtain a response were extremely invasive. Most of them required me to submit personal information and photos of my face in order to gain access to my account which was wrongfully deactivated in the first place. To top it all off, the company ignored comments from users and actively deleted posts that addressed the problem in order to cover up their lack of effective security measures.
Although I have been graced with my account’s reactivation there are so many others who haven’t had such luck. Those three weeks were tough on me, but I can’t imagine how hard they would be on people whose incomes are dependent on their social media account. The error that occurred is justifiable as Instagram is simply taking measures to filter users who aren’t following guidelines, but it is their lack of customer support that is inexcusable for such a large company. Leaving desperate people to turn to an abundance of hackers who claim they can restore the accounts and placing them in more danger is not the kind of thing that Instagram should allow. How is it possible that these accounts and many others that are committing true social media crimes continue to exist?
My advice: understand the commitment you make when agreeing to a social media’s terms of service, keep your account clean and never turn to anyone but an official employee for help. It can be frustrating to be patient, but it is much worse if your personal information falls into the wrong hands. Always remember, nothing online is private.