You’ve seen these articles around the Internet for some years now. How successful they’ve been in dealing with this matter, I can’t even imagine, and I wouldn’t venture to guess. But sometimes I think there is a place for constructive thoughts, and then a place for venting – and more specifically, a public space to bring a long-standing issue to attention.
My Instagram got hacked.
It’s so mundane. So banal. But it’s true. On April 2, I just woke up and a friend of mine messaged me on the platform and wanted help with being voted for an influencer. It seemed pretty legitimate, even though in retrospect it was a formulaic thing. What I didn’t know was that their account had been hacked, and that they basically phished me.
As a result, they logged me out of my account and took it over. They also enabled Two-Step Authentication and, ingeniously, they deactivated my account and then reactivated and renamed it with a downward hyphen so as to completely eliminate my ability to revert my email back to my account. Basically, what this hacker did – from my understanding and reading up on the subject – was they used a bug in the system to make sure Instagram’s system that would allow me to switch the email back to my account didn’t work. The link simply failed. This was not even fifteen minutes into realizing what happened.
They switched our phone numbers. They enabled Two-Step authentication. And then they proceeded to use my likewise, like a parasite, like a thief, to try to sell bitcoin to my friends and followers, and also attempt to trick them into giving them their accounts as well. And believe me, I heard about it. I was told by many people, who hadn’t or didn’t read my updates, that my account got hacked.
So, obviously, I informed Instagram about it, and they authenticated me, and got it back for me in one or two days right? You know, once I told them their reversion email link didn’t work.
Yeah. About that …
If this has happened to you, or you know someone who’s gone through this, you probably know what happened next. Or what didn’t.
When I couldn’t find the second set of security numbers for the Two-Step Authentication the hacker set up, I went to click on another way to get the information. It, of course, linked me right back to the Help Center. The Help Center is a FAQ, that basically tells you what to do, in something of a paradoxical feedback loop that basically amounts to: ask for Support, which is what I did the first couple of times.
Eventually, I found a way to do Video Authentication. I moved my face to the left, right, up and down, and back again. The first time I did it, I heard nothing back from Instagram in two days. The rest of the times I did this, repeatedly? They “couldn’t confirm” my information. I read that perhaps it was the lighting behind the picture that was the issue, but the actual problem itself is more endemic. The thing is, on the Help Center itself, it is even admitted that Instagram has “no facial recognition software.” In other words, the only way this video will even be acknowledged is by a bot they made, or a systems operator: an actual human being.
You cannot email Instagram. You cannot phone them either or, rather, you can but they will not transfer your call to a living, organic person. And they will always take you back to the Help Center, which will take you back to the steps that you performed, and that rejected you. At one point, I was able to receive emails from my Instagram account and I tried to reset the password. I kept receiving these emails or friend requests, as though the hacked account itself was mocking me, laughing at me at the activity being shown, but with no available way for me to enter it again. It was getting under my skin.
I found a way to contact Facebook by explaining that my account was hacked. Facebook – or Meta – owns Instagram, and they told me to write some numbers they sent me on a piece of paper, with my name and user name, and send it back to them as a JPEG. I did that. They didn’t contact me for two days. I sent it again. They replied by … you guessed it: sending me back to the Help Center, which is a lot like the Muppet’s Happiness Hotel: in that I wish I could run away from it in the middle of the night, and it scares me to think about what the Sadness Hotel might look like.
It’s been almost a month. I had my friends and followers Report the account to Instagram. Apparently you need over ten reports to get them to look into the matter systemically. I say apparently because originally I thought after over ten, the account would get locked down, and deleted. I suppose I was wrong, as to this very day my former account is still active and attempting to spread bitcoin and phishes all the way up the wazoo: using my likeness with my links to my writing, my online presence, and this very Blog to do so.
I think about it, after I eventually put Instagram’s emails to my address into Spam from my former account. All of this could have been avoided if a flesh and blood, live person existed for customer service, like every other organization possesses. This would have been intolerable for a bank. Or any other business. Now, the thing is, a lot of people will add: well, Matthew Instagram is a free service, and you get what you pay for – which is nothing. What did you expect?
And I will tell you, right off the bat, that Instagram is paid for by something. Ad revenue, financial backing, a whole ton of resources and methods I lack the ability or acumen or really the patience to lay out. But someone, or something, funds Instagram, and Facebook, and every free social media platform. And it markets itself as being convenient, free, and accessible. And only two of these qualities, I’ve found, are true.
Don’t misunderstand. What the hacker did to me was wrong. It was thievery. It was manipulation, and theft. But Instagram’s inability, or systemic apathy in dealing with the issue – which could have been resolved if I’d been able to interact with a living person who could have easily determined I was a living being and not a non-sapient robot – is just as responsible, if not more so for this entire state of affairs. The utter lack of accountability here is not only infuriating, but it is frightening.
Think about it: you are using a free program online, or even a paid one with a Terms of Service that is arcane and would take a legal expert to even begin to fully understand. One day, you get hacked. And you realize that, unlike a bank or business that would shut that down almost immediately and get you to confirm changes in details, you are shut out. You can’t contact Support by email. You can’t phone them. You are utterly stuck. The best you can do is keep Reporting them, or attempt to persist in verifying yourself over, and over, and over again only to have some arbitrary system not be able to confirm your identity when you know that all you need is one person – one staff member – to simply see you move and hold a number – and it would be over. Just like that.
And if you know someone at Instagram, or Facebook, or you are a major influencer, you might have a chance. And there is nothing fair, or accessible about that. But what troubles me more is while the images I have, and the interactions I’ve had with my friends and followers on there mean a lot to me, it’s the utter lack of following up on Reporting problematic accounts that gets to me. The day that account got over ten complaints should have been the end of it. I would have settled for having that account deleted. Hell, if a nipple had appeared in my images on that account, I am pretty sure Instagram would have neutralized it almost immediately. At one point, when I still owned it – before it was stolen from me – I was having a comments discussion exchanging Scott Pilgrim quotes with a dear friend of mine, only for Instagram to delete one of my comments because of “hate speech” or “violence.” So basically Instagram’s algorithm is effective in censoring a fictional comment, but when an account gets hacked and spreads malware, phishing, and spam, that is somehow okay?
You’ve, no doubt by now, seen a million of these Instagram hacked articles and all the ways it can – and can’t – be dealt with. I am not providing answers. I am just trying to provide a human face to this, and perhaps even show someone working for Instagram the frustration, and the price involved when someone exploits this system, and no one takes steps to deal with it.
Many of these exploits have existed since 2017, when I’ve looked for similar complaints and solutions online. And those are the ones that I’ve found. How many people just gave up? I have pictures of my grandmother’s things – my grandmother who passed away in October. I have images of friends, family, and loved ones. I have had creators – writers and actors and directors – reference me, and that handle, for some of my writing. My Instagram gradually, and perhaps reluctantly on my part, became a part of my online footprint. I was lucky in that I had a friend who screen-captured all of my contacts and I was able to find them again. Otherwise, I’d not be able to even communicate with them. One person on that platform, a friend of mine, has terminal cancers, and that platform is how we primarily communicated and how I knew about her health.
I can go on. But I know another fact in this situation. Drawing attention to the fall and corruption of my account, and Instagram’s lack of action in dealing with it, also attracts scavengers. You would not believe how many people on my public social media platforms have suggested “counter-hackers” or names, and phone numbers of people who can “help me” as they admit Instagram will do nothing to help in the situation. Getting those comments are pretty much another form of spam in and of itself.
For me, it’s a rude awakening. It’s one of those moments when you realize that the Emperor has no clothes. It’s worse than the Myth of Sisyphus or Tantalus where the cycle is more than just one of futility, or even having something valuable inches away from you, only to be taken away. It’s that time when you realize that it isn’t so much that God is dead, as it is that They have never existed in this space, and what you have is a bureaucratic, convoluted labyrinth that leads into itself and nowhere, and you will get lost and helpless there fast. Because this isn’t just Instagram that doesn’t seem to have a systems operator there. No angels. No gods. It’s Facebook too. It’s all of them.
And all it will take is one bad day, one poor decision, one exploit, and the next thing you know you are locked out of something that should be trivial to retrieve again. And, unless you are rich or a legal expert, or popular — or all of the above – you will be outside the doors of the thing you helped create, and you will not be able to get back inside as some criminal trashes everything you made, or uses what’s within to do it to your friends and loved ones. And there is no magistrate. And no justice. There is no authority to help you, and everything almost seems senseless afterwards, with not even a single person with which to vent your anger: making it easy to have your concerns and rage gaslit away.
What you have is this online world of free applications that do incredible things that have little to no accountability attached to them unless you have the temporal power-base, and backing, to get it back. What should be just a minor inconvenience, can easily become something worse. And as these applications grow in power, and popularity, this lack of accountability while people keep supporting them terrifies me far more than any one hacker ever could.
So if you are on Instagram, for what it’s worth, Report mkirsh3__. That isn’t my place anymore. The hacker made sure of that through their malicious actions. And Instagram made sure of it too through its negligence and lack of action. Maybe I can get enough attention on my former account, and Instagram, to make a difference: or to make their lives as inconvenient, and as stressful as they’ve made mine. It is infuriating to feel so helpless over something that shouldn’t be that big a deal: but it is.
It is a big deal when someone steals something you made, and uses it to try to steal others’ works as well, and misrepresent you, and use your likeness to do so. They have tried to infiltrate your world, such as it is, online. And Instagram, you had years to fix these exploits, or hire live systems operators. You need to do better. You are not accessible. And this isn’t a bug, it’s a feature. And I hope you will deal with this matter, and so many others, and take the time and responsibility you need to make your platform a better experience for your users. Please, do better.
And I also hope that everyone else finds a way to make Instagram, and Facebook and other platform entities accountable for their actions, or inactions, with regards to their users.
I have said my piece here. I wish I had a place to Report Instagram or Facebook themselves, but this is the next best thing. Something needs to hold them accountable, or make potential users hesitate before ever using their services. And I’ve done what I could.