I have my first name as my user name in a bunch of places. I’ve had my Twitter account (Twitter.com/alper) for a very long time but my Instagram account (Instagram.com/alper) got a lot more attention after Instagram got really big. A couple of weeks ago I lost that account.
I didn’t suspect that this time it would be permanent. It happened before that Instagram would lock me out of my account because they claimed I had infringed a not-specified guideline. I would open a support request, they would have me jump through some hoops and then re-enable my account.
Not this time.
Now why does this happen in the first place? A first name account like mine is considered OG (see this episode of Reply All). Lots of people—mostly from Turkey—would really love to have it. I know this because I get messages from them all the time. I ignore these messages. I also get lots of password resets from people trying to break into my account. I have the account secured.
What they then most likely try is to claim that I’m impersonating somebody. I don’t think I can impersonate myself but let’s just go with it. Instagram does not do any due diligence and if they get the right kind or right amount of reports, they just suspend my account. I guess that is the first step in a process through which the attacker believes they can get me kicked off the account permanently and then maybe later acquire the username.
Normally support would give me back my account in a couple of days. This time all my support requests have been black holed.
Instagram support is very well hidden but if you search around you can find three web forms in the support portal for a situation such as this one. I filled those in multiple times. I got in touch with people who work at Instagram through various channels. This dude followed me so I asked him about my account (no reply). I even had people open Facebook internal support tickets which still remain open. A support agent replied to me once but then ghosted me.
If they would usually give me back my account, why don’t they do it this time?
One theory is that Instagram support is overwhelmed because of COVID. They seem to have difficulty even normally with the number of support requests so it could be possible that if things get worse, stuff just gets ignored. I don’t really buy this but it’s possible.
My theory is that somebody with some actual clout has put a hold on my username. People and agencies with access to Instagram sell services such as support or verified status illicitly. Maybe somebody is selling access to my username or they are using my username to trade for something more valuable. Facebook is under a lot of pressure to make advertising targets at the moment.
By now I don’t think I will get my account back anymore. I’m waiting to see if it gets recycled and who will be using it after me.
It’s a weird feeling losing something that other people think carries significant monetary value.
But it’s a lot more annoying to lose your identity and sense of place. I’ve started a new account but without access to the old one, getting it to the same place has been a very slow and arduous process. I’m still cut-off from several hundred people who I would communicate with over Instagram, for some of whom this was the only communication channel.
Of course I knew that none of this was mine to start with and it could be taken away with the press of a button. I just ignored it. Don’t make the same mistake I did.