An Open Letter to Instagram
You don’t know me, and chances are slim anyone working at Instagram will actually read this. But I’ll write it anyway, on the off chance that someone does read it, and that someone might actually be willing to help someone else avoid what I had to deal with.
In November 2020, I took a much-needed break from social media. Just a few days, just long enough to clear my head. When I came back, I set aside some time to catch up on what my friends had been doing. I liked a lot of posts in a few hours. Yes, hours. Nowhere near bot speed, since I do read captions. I was literally within 3 posts of being caught up when my feed froze and a screen popped up saying “suspicious activity” had been detected on my account. In order to unlock the account, I needed to verify I was really me by inputting the 6-digit verification code that would be emailed to the address provided when I created my account.
“Okay,” said I, “whatever, a mild annoyance and nothing more, send me the code and I shall input it and we’ll all get on with our day.”
When I didn’t receive the code within 10 minutes, I clicked the “resend code” link. And waited.
That was on November 16th. That process was repeated dozens of times over the next 3 days. You never sent the code. On November 19th, I created a new IG account.
Over the course of the next few months, I requested that verification code daily, trying to regain access to my original account. It was never sent. On January 17th, I gave up.
And I tried very hard to let it go. But two things were driving me crazy. The first was, my original account was still visible but I couldn’t let any of my casual friends or followers know that it was inactive. It just looked like I was ignoring my account, comments, messages, like I had just disappeared when I was in fact trying to rebuild starting from scratch (a thing you’ve made all but impossible to do nowadays, but that’s another story for another time). That original account was coming up on 1000 followers. I had made connections within creative communities. I had built something, even if it wasn’t the biggest something on the Internet, it mattered to me.
And the second thing, the even more important thing, the thing that was really driving me crazy?
I started my website, poeticpinup.com, in 2007. I used poeticpinup on MySpace in 2007. I used @poeticpinup when I started my Facebook page in 2010. I used @poeticpinup when I created my Twitter account in 2011. And I used @poeticpinup when I created my original IG account in 2016.
When you bricked my account, you took away my ability to say “find me everywhere @poeticpinup”. You compromised my brand. And that’s the thing I couldn’t let go.
So in February 2021, I started trying alternate ways to reach you. I went through the IG Help center from my new account, explaining the situation. I went through the Help center on Facebook. Nothing. After a few weeks, I gave up again.
I started regaining followers, albeit at a snail’s pace. I managed to rebuild some of my community connections, but even now far too many people in those communities are still following my original account and not my new one, probably assuming I’ve left IG. And even people who followed the new account still often tagged the wrong one because it showed up first when they started typing “poetic” so I was still gaining more followers on my old account than on my new one.
And I still had to say “find me everywhere @poeticpinup (except on IG where you have to find me @poetic.pinup)”
So on June 17th, I decided to try a new approach. I attempted to log in to my old account and, when the option presented itself, I told you I could no longer access the email I used to create the account. I could and can, but that wasn’t the point. The point was to get someone’s attention and hopefully someone’s help.
I provided an alternate email address and was prompted to take a selfie video, turning my head this way and that so you could see I was me. My first mistake was having my rather distinctive hair pulled back, because you emailed me within minutes saying I couldn’t be verified but I was welcome to try again. I took my hair down and tried again. Same response. So I tried a third time, asking that you please look for the birthmark above my right eyebrow, visible in almost all of my photos.
That worked. You verified that I’m me. You sent me a link to get back into my old account. I was in tears of relief. You have no idea how happy I was in that moment. And I had no idea how short-lived that happiness and relief would be.
I followed the link you provided, and unfortunately my browser autofilled an old password, resulting in me being locked out of the account again. I literally screamed at my monitor. Scared the hell out of my dogs. I gave them bacon treats and they got over it, don’t worry.
So I submitted yet another video selfie explaining what had just happened. Rejected. Sent another with the note about the birthmark. Verified, link to reset password sent. Followed the link, generated a new password, clicked submit.
And got a screen saying “in order to verify your identity, please input the 6-digit verification code we’re sending to the email used to create your account.”
The email I had just told you I couldn’t access. But I waited to see if maybe, just maybe, you might actually send the code this time.
You didn’t. I kept trying. I have 20 archived emails from you from June 17th. My dogs got a lot of bacon that night.
The next day, I started the cycle again. Video selfie. Can’t access the email you claim to be sending verification codes to. Look for the birthmark. Not getting the codes. Can’t access that email. All day. I have another 12 archived emails from you from June 18th.
Day 3. More of the same, with a new twist. In one of the emails, you stated that the reason you were sending verification codes to that specific email is because I had two-factor authentication turned on for my account and that was the email I provided for that. Trying to explain to you that I couldn’t access that email fell on deaf ears. You told me to log into my account and follow the instructions on the screen. You told me to log into the account to get help logging into the account I couldn’t log into, to get help logging into that account. No progress and 17 archived emails dated June 19th.
June 20th was a Sunday so I didn’t expect to hear from you. By Monday the 21st, I was mentally exhausted and just couldn’t deal with another day like the previous 3 had been. Only one archived email from you that day.
Tuesday, June 22nd. Submitted yet another video selfie. Realized too late that I had my hair pulled back. Submitted another. Rejected.
Submitted a third, again asking that you look for the birthmark, and in desperation adding that I was within a short driving distance of your Menlo Park campus and would be happy to meet with someone to show my ID and all relevant documentation proving that I’m me and this is my account.
You evidently interpreted my desperation as some kind of threat because I never heard from you again. My last archived email, number 54, bears the subject line “We received your request” and there was no further communication from you.
Until June 24.
It was very early and I’d gotten very little sleep the night before when I saw an email from you in my Yahoo account saying “Hey you should log in to Instagram and see all this cool stuff that’s going on and all these cool people you can follow!” At that point I had already changed my FB & Twitter handles so I at least had one consistent across all platforms, so I could at least say “find me everywhere @THIS_ONE_SAME_THING” even if it differed slightly from my website URL. I found something I could live with. I was making peace with the situation. But when I saw that email from you, I couldn’t stop myself from replying. I replied that I would love to log into my IG account and see all the cool stuff, but you had locked me out of it in November and numerous requests for support hadn’t gotten me back in. I didn’t expect a reply.
And I certainly didn’t expect a reply to the email address you couldn’t send verification codes to but seemed to have no issue sending emails to saying you’d love to help me but for security reasons I needed to reply from THAT email address before you could “review my report”.
So I replied:
“I have FIFTY-FOUR archived emails from you on my yahoo email account. This is the FIRST time you have emailed me here. Which is the entire problem. The reason I’m locked out of my account is because you keep telling me to input a 6-digit security code when I log in, a code you claim you’re sending to this email address. A code you claim you’ve BEEN sending to this email address since NOVEMBER. A code I have yet to receive.
So, okay, this is my reply from this email address. Your support system is broken and I can’t deal with it anymore. I have created a new account and changed my handle across all my socials from the one I’ve had for FOURTEEN YEARS to something else, so I could have it consistent across all platforms. You won. I was too tired to fight with you anymore. I gave up. Congratulations. Enjoy knowing you were victorious against someone whose primary goal with their social media presence is running fundraisers. Have a nice day.”
Needless to say, I have not heard from you again.
So that’s my story, Instagram. Locked out of my account for the crime of needing a break from social media. Accused of suspicious activity for using the platform as intended and liking people’s posts. Deemed some kind of threat because I happen to live within a reasonable distance of your building and was desperate enough to regain a crucial part of my brand identity that I offered to drive half an hour and meet you on your terms.
You don’t care about any of this. I know that.
I just wish I could say the same.