When You’re the Product, not the Customer or How Instagram & Others have failed Its “Users

Okay I’m going to admit I’m a little aggravated. So aggravated, that I’m spending my Sunday morning writing this “I’m pissed off” article. That should tell you something… It’s a gorgeous day in South Florida and I’m sitting on my Mac in my home office writing this.

I run a well-known UI / UX design studio called The Skins Factory, that turns 21 years old in December. I am well-versed in the trials and tribulations of running applications.

Because you and I are considered the “product” of social media services, we are treated with low regard and as an afterthought. Their marketing and PR teams will proclaim to the world how they’re trying to “connect” us with each other, but as you know, it’s really about the advertising dollars. You and I… we really don’t matter.

I’m not going to get into Facebook / Meta. There’s enough in the press these days about what’s going on with them, but I will go into Instagram, because right now it’s personal. I have a couple of Instagram accounts, my personal one is the one I have cultivated the most showing my photography of beautiful shots of South Florida, my obsession with Cuban cigars and more recently restaurants and the beaded wristwear I’ve been making as i begin to launch a new company called VUDU.

I play by the rules. I respect the platform. I don’t use third-party software or bots or anything suspect.

About 3 weeks ago i was posting a shot of some beaded bracelets i made when my account was disabled. It was just a couple of images of some wristwear / beaded bracelets I made for my daughter who was competing in a Special Needs pageant. I wanted to make something that matched her evening gown.

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After I posted the above shot, my account was disabled. So I went through the obnoxious wait period of 24-hours for Instagram to review, not knowing if they were going to delete my account. They don’t bother to tell you what you did wrong. Isn’t that nice of them?

24-hours later they “turned me back on.” No explanation as to why my account was deactivated. A company that was paid 1 billion dollars in it’s acquisition by Facebook, and that’s the best they can do?

There’s simply no excuse.

The Social Media Networks have integrated themselves into our lives. To me, they are now no different than the telecommunication companies. They are a social utility that is such a fundamental part of our digital lives, that they should be held accountable just like the AT&T or Verizon is. And yet they aren’t.

Two days ago the same thing happened again. Same process. Wait 24-hours, do the review and back up. This time i get email from Facebook stating:

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Ya think? Yeah, I’m sorry for the inconvenience too.

When I read that, I thought… hmm, maybe they are doing better. Except they’re not. That gracious line of “If you have any issues getting back into your account, please let us know.” is impotent. There is no way on the email to contact anyone. No clickable links to further support and the email being generated is from a “no-reply@mail.instagram.com” email address.

Now I know you may be thinking… “But Jeff, your account was reinstated.”

Well, about that…

 I reposted the same shot i posted the night before – see below…

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and the same, exact thing happened. I think I have figured out why this keeps happening.

I copy and pasted the hashtags from a previous post i made on my iMac (using Instagram on the desktop browser) to my iPhone 13 Pro Max (using Instagram for iOS) and somehow was flagged as doing something “bad.”

Here’s the rub, I’ve been doing that for many, many months with never an issue. I can’t imagine Social Media Managers across the globe are manually typing in up to 30 hashtags with their thumbs or keyboards. This is probably some screw up by Instagram’s dev team to help mitigate spammers and I’m caught in the middle. Me, who is just a lowly “product.”

Now this time it wasn’t 24-hours, it looks like it’s 30 days. But I don’t even know, because after doing some CAPTCHA thing to prove I’m not a bot, it said something about in 30 days i can review. They never sent me a code to input like last time, so i assume the CAPTCHA was in lieu of that.

Using Instagram’s Help Center is an exercise in futility. You are stuck in a futile loop, but with no Bill Murray and no groundhog.

First you go here and fill it out. Okay great, I’m getting somewhere. But as soon as you hit Send you see this error message:

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Now i normally write an appeal, this was just to illustrate the futile attempt at correcting the problem.

See the problem? My account is disabled again and this time when i put my login and password in the Instagram app, the login form just refreshes. My username isn’t being seen by the app because the account is disabled. So I can’t “Confirm” anything at all. So there is no recourse.

So a false flag event caused by something as simple as copy and pasting and now i’m locked out of my account for a month? No human to talk to to make this right, no telephone number to call, no email address to get help from. Zero.

A publicly traded company making billions of dollars per year and they can’t afford legitimate customer service? That is not okay.

I believe it’s time that social networks are treating like utilities and regulated. Can you imagine getting your telephone cut off for 30 days for doing something you have been doing but now all of a sudden it’s not okay and with no customer service to speak to?

Now i get it, they have a ridiculous amount of users to deal with, but if you’re going to automate safeguards against spamming your network, then you need to back that up with proper customer support. I would argue that Microsoft has as many users as Instagram does, when you consider licensed users of Windows, their software like Office, their hardware and yet they manage to have legitmate customer support. I’m a Apple user and i can always speak to someone on the phone. Pretty sure they have more users than Instagram.

This all falls on the leadership at companies like Instagram where the C-Level and VPs execs are so laser focused on profits and new features, that the “users” or “products,” whatever you want to refer to us as, are expendable.

You Gentlemen and Ladies need to do better.

Start showing your user base some respect, respect we deserve, because without us, you have no advertising revenue.

Because let me tell you something, you are not too big to fail. Just ask MySpace.

TL;DR: I want my account back. Please.

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