Give Me Back My Sunsets!

The time Instagram wrongly banned me and threatened to destroy my life. "Oops. Our bad."
Give Me Back My Sunsets!

For the past two days, Meta has accused me of being something that I won't even type here because I don't want search engines getting any ideas. But it was bad. Ruin your life, go to prison, bad. Just about the worst thing you can be accused of being.

So that was fun.

It started two nights ago. I was actually on my computer, writing, when I happened to notice I had been logged out of Threads. Weird, I thought. Maybe some cookie issue. But when I went to log back in I got a new interstitial noting that my account had been suspended. At first, I thought it might be some sort of lockdown procedure due to suspicious activity. Because I have a verified account (stemming from Instagram), there have been a few hijacking attempts over the years. That plus the fact that I live in London now perhaps triggered some automatic protection, I thought. I tried to log-in again via Instagram (since Threads accounts are still tied to IG accounts) thinking there might be some sort of recovery mechanism. But no. The same "suspended" notice and this time, reading it further, it said I had 180 days to appeal or Meta would permanently disable my account.


Now I assumed it must have been someone flagging my Threads account for spam or something. After all, a few hours prior I sent far more messages than I normally do due to the fact that there was an Apple event (to announce new iPads). Perhaps someone wasn't happy with my output volume or jokes about launching an iPad on a BART train. Obviously, I appealed using Meta's little button at the bottom of the notice. Annoying, but it was about to be bedtime in London, so off I went to sleep assuming they'd restore me by the morning.

I wake up the next morning and not only is my account not restored, but there's a new pop-up notice: "We disabled your account". And then the kicker, under "Why this happened":

Again, I don't even want to type these words for fear of being associated with something that has absolutely no truth to it. No grounds in reality. I'm reminded of this scene from About a Boy. WHAT EXACTLY ARE YOU SUGGESTING?!1

And the cherry on top:

No one can see or find your account and you can't use it. All your information will be permanently deleted.

You cannot request another review of this decision.

I repeat: you cannot request another review of this decision. That's it. It's over. Never met the judge who suspended me. The jury to whom I appealed. Only the executioner. Sorry. Have a nice life.

Perhaps in prison – as clicking on the "Read more about this rule" relays a few bits of information you never want to read. Including the notice that Meta is required to report this to the appropriate authorities. Jesus Fucking Christ.

At this point, I stopped dicking around and messaged anyone and everyone I knew at Meta/Instagram from executives on down. But it was also the middle of the night in the US now. I was freaking out.

Other accounts tied to mine, such as the feed for Spyglass was also banned for trying to "bypass restrictions" on my main account.2 And because it's also tied to my Instagram account, my Facebook account was also banned. This is how my mother messages me. My god. It was almost enough to allow one to feel sympathy for Donald Trump. Almost. Meta was erasing me from the internet.

I went back to the notices again and again, as I literally had no idea how all this could happen. And especially how someone apparently reviewed the decision and upheld it! And worse, there's literally nothing you can do about it. There's no way to message Meta/Instagram because you need access to the service in order to do so. So you either have to try to pull some strings as I was doing or you're shit out of luck. It's perhaps the worst customer experience and treatment imaginable.

I mean, I guess if they really think you're a criminal... But it also seems criminal to have no recourse to appeal this even after that first push-button review. You should be able to appeal such a claim an infinite amount of times as far as I'm concerned. They're talking about destroying your life. And, as I'm testament to, completely and terrifyingly in error.

Searching the exact wording of the notice turned up a bunch of other cases and people in the same boat. Googling always does this, of course, but the results seemed to point to strange false positives involving white shirts or other oddities. I honestly still don't even know how this is possible as if you look at my account – thankfully now back online and not restricted – all I post are pictures of sunsets and scenery. I long ago stopped posting pictures of my family because well, I have a lot of followers dating back to the early days of Instagram; 99.9% of whom I don't know and would prefer not to share details of my personal life with. I do share some pictures of family via Stories with a more restricted group of people (the cut off: people I've met in real life). Could that have something to do with it?

Even now, with my accounts restored last night after calling in said favors, I have absolutely no idea what happened. I went to bed last night again with no access. I was told that a ticket was filed, but nothing more. Around 1am I got an email from Meta Quest, of all places, noting " You can start using your Meta account again."

Sweet. Bust out that headset. Time for some VR, baby.

Searching my spam folder, I found a note from Instagram as well sent at the same time:

"We're sorry we got this wrong..." "WE'RE SORRY WE GOT THIS WRONG"! That's it, no word on what the problem was. Why it was flagged. Why a review didn't correct it and instead perma-banned me. Nothing.

"We're sorry we got this wrong".

Other than that, Mrs. Lincoln, how did you like the play?”

I do, of course, appreciate the help I received in resolving the matter. And I appreciate the thankless task Meta/Instagram have to do here to combat truly bad actors. But I'm sorry, it should not be this easy to falsely accuse someone of something this awful. And to give them no recourse beyond back-channels, which most don't have any access to,3 to get it resolved. This should not happen. And if it does, there needs to be far better messaging about how to resolve/report, if nothing else.

I've been in trouble with social networks before, but this was no joke. It was terrifying. Namely in just how fast it happened with next to no explanation. Even now. Poof. I was gone. For nothing. "We got this wrong" – I'll say.

1 My god, how is this movie 22 years old?

2 I still don't have full access to my Spyglass feed as I can't log-in via the iOS app -- which I suspect is a bug tied to the IG log-in and not something nefarious.

3 If this can happen to me, one of the first users of Instagram 14 years ago -- literally user #28 -- it can happen to anyone. But again, most people will have no way to resolve the issue, apparently. Which is wild.