Instagram suspended my account and won’t tell me why

2018 update: See the note at the end for an unfortunate conclusion to this tale.

For the past four and a half years, I’ve used Instagram under the username @tony. At that account, I’ve posted a completely unexceptional mixture of pictures of food, family, buildings and airplane wings.

As the platform grew, having such a generic username started to be a little bit of hassle. For instance, I got more or less constant notifications from Instagram someone had tried to reset my password.

An example password reset email from Instagram. The “Let Us Know” link doesn’t do much of anything.

Currently in Apple Mail I have more than 450 such emails, though I have deleted them from time to time, so that’s not a full accounting.

One of the funnier discussions around a mistaken mention of my username. My bio said I probably wasn’t the Tony they meant to mention. Captured Oct. 13, 2014.

Another downside to the username was a steady stream of junk mentions (lots of attempts to mention Tony Roma’s and various other people named Tony) and people mistakenly tagging me in photos and comments.

There was also no shortage of users who wanted to me to give or sell them my username. (What they thought the value would be is unclear.) Those users left me comments and one even managed to dig up my phone number from a domain registration and left me a voicemail. (Curses to registrars who don’t auto-renew WHOIS privacy.) What I’m saying is, they were pervasive and resourceful. I blocked many of them.

On Tuesday, I opened Instagram and instead of seeing a stream of my friends’ photos, I instead saw a login screen. I flipped to 1Password to grab my credentials and when I tried to log in, I got an error: “Your account has been disabled for violating our terms.”

The “Learn More” link provided no actual additional information.

I tweeted at Instagram a couple times hoping they might be able to connect me with someone who knew what was going on. I searched their mobile and desktop websites for answers or contact information, and didn’t find any of either. Finally, I submitted a “hacked account” request.

This request actually resulted in a response, which seemed like progress. I got an email with a code and instructions to reply back with a photo showing my face along with a piece of paper showing the code and my name.

The next day I got a response saying much the same thing as the original error message:

I replied back with a message that I wasn’t aware of any terms violations I could have committed, telling them I think it was a campaign to report me, and asking for help.

I’ve heard nothing back.

Maybe you don’t care about me or my @tony account, and that’s fine. Compared to people having real problems, this is nothing. But’s it’s complete bullshit that a company like Facebook works so hard to convince you to post your content for years (so they can put ads against it) and then can dispose of you with no notice and no recourse.

UPDATE 6/9: This evening a friend was able to get the attention of someone at Facebook and they have now restored the account. I wasn’t given an explanation of what happened, but the message did include an apology. Here’s the email they sent:

Hi tony,
You may have recently had trouble accessing your Instagram account. We’re sorry for the inconvenience, and you should be able to log in now. The issue we were having hasn’t affected your photos.
The Instagram Team

Here’s the Instagram post I made to celebrate.

Thank you to everyone who commented, recommended and shared this post.

UPDATE 1/17/18: In November, someone managed to convince AT&T to redirect my phone number to their device, and used that to take control of my Instagram account, changing my username and taking @tony for themselves. I made repeated attempts to contact Instagram and report the incident, but never heard anything back. Eventually the @tony account was deleted, but it’s not clear if that was done by the user or by Instagram. However, even with that account gone, the service won’t let me reclaim my username. After nearly two months, I’ve given up and changed my username to @tonyskyday, matching my Twitter account. By way of memorial for my stolen username, here’s my first Instagram post, from Oct. 8, two days after the service launched.

My first Instagram post. (People who find it like to comment with how many days old it is.)
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