Circle one: Yes No Maybe
A developer & designer.
Based in Los Angeles / Southwestern Colorado.
At the moment, I am not on Instagram. My 13-year-old account (@firstname.lastname@example.org – a long story for another time) is suspended and with it, my nascent Threads account. My current plan is to allow the appeal-window to expire, deleting the account, permanently.
I wasn’t planning on leaving Instagram—it was the one personal social network I still actively participated in and after a long Twitter hiatus I had been coming around to Threads. But last July I sat down on my living room couch on a Saturday, absentmindedly tapped open the app and noticed I was no longer signed in.
I know what you’re probably thinking: I’d been hacked. And I had before, actually, years ago (again, part of that story for another time), but I had not been hacked. I was able to sign back in and instead of my feed I was presented with a message telling me the account had been suspended, and along with it, my Threads account, because of course they are tied together. A decision had been made by an algorithm deep within the infrastructure bowels of Meta: I was not me—not human—I was a bot.
I don’t envy how the big social media companies have to police their own customers. Some of it is genuinely necessary for the safety of their userbase and some of it deemed necessary for walled-garden, competitive reasons. I even work for one of those companies, so I guess, in a round-about way, my hands aren’t clean.
But I wasn’t scraping Instagram data, using bots, connecting 3rd-party apps, or any of the other ToS violations listed as potential reasons for my account suspension (they don’t actually tell you the specific reason). I’d come by my thousands of now mostly-inactive, ghost account followers honestly, gosh darn it! I’d spent time in this virtual place. I’d put in the likes, crafted the posts, submitted the stories (and somehow never succumbed to Reels 😂) over years and years using my human meat hands, poking at Meta’s official apps.
I have boring theories as to how this happened that I’d be happy to get into if there was someone from Meta to talk to, but there isn’t.
Left with a choice between trying to appeal the suspension through an opaque, automated system of robots and doing nothing, I decided to walk away. The suspension was the prompt I needed to re-evaluate something I had invested over a decade in. How could it just disappear in an instant—and without a way to understand how I had triggered an algo that decided I was up to no good? The fact that I didn’t understand the reason for my suspension beyond the broad strokes of, “I must’ve tripped a false positive 🤷🏻♂️”, gave me little self-assurance that even a successful appeal wouldn’t end in other, future suspensions at indeterminate dates.
The account will be gone for good in another month or so. I’m oddly a little sad about that and sort of embarrassed for being proud of the capital-“C” Content that I’d put there, but I’ve made peace with it washing away in the digital tides.
More importantly, I’ve been spending time thinking about what it means to be “online”. We don’t really own anything we put online. There’s always an end-user license agreement between us and the person (or bot) on the other end of the screen. The agreement could be through a social network, a hosting company, or even the very physical device we are using. The bits and bytes can flow in a different direction at any instant because of a perceived infraction, with those infractions increasingly determined by digital agents whose decisions are not reviewed by a human. For the most part, we shrug and move along with our lives because we’ve decided that the system can’t work in any other way. I doubt incentives are aligned to leave room for any other sort of system than what we currently have for our little software worlds and the identities we create. I am unsure what would realign those incentives.
On some level, I place no blame on Instagram/Meta. At a user level, I absolutely do: the experience of being accused of doing something you know you didn’t do, and given no recourse to have it explained to you, understood, and no assurance that if found to be a mistake, the company will learn from it and improve their systems, is—to put it mildly—rather poor. But at a professional level? What is the loss of one set of eyes worth over the cost/convenience of so much automated gate-keeping? I’m not special and I doubt anyone within the company will notice my absence, financially-speaking.
Additionally, with so many social forces pulling us into these online worlds, I can’t even declare that I won’t return to that particular walled-garden, despite my misgivings. Not having easy access to these products is incredibly inconvenient to my offline existence. I miss out on in-person events I didn’t hear about, I struggle to understand if the local coffee shop is open on a holiday because they only post in their IG Stories, I have less ambient awareness of what friends—actual humans I have lived life with—are up to. Occasionally, I’ve even connected with future romantic partners on social networks, so I am likely at a disadvantage here as well.
But somehow, this time, unlike years ago when my account was hacked, it has felt important to walk away and to feel the void. It has felt necessary to ask myself what it means to invest so much in a singular online presence and wonder if it could it be better to create and publish in different places, even if less people see my stuff, even if there are still EULA’s between us all, and with algorithms still watching everything we do.
Maybe I’ll learn something useful. Maybe I’m just making life unnecessarily difficult for myself. It can be hard to tell. I’m pretty stubborn that way.
On hiatus, but always curious. Say hello.
My writing on this site comes from my own personal views and does not reflect or represent the views of my employer.