Tuesday, June 6, 2017

The thin line between reporting an offensive Instagram account and sabotaging a user

Pic credit: Diginomica.com
Update: Received an e-mail from Instagram on June 8, 2017 stating that my account has been restored. No reason given as to why it was disabled. They did however apologise for the inconvenience.

I have been an Instagram user for some five to six years now, maybe more. My account is private and I only approve requests from people I know. It is a personal account where I share mostly my own photos, of the things I do and places I visit. What is more important than the number of followers I have, with regards to my account, are the captions that go with my photos. 

I do not use my Instagram as a business platform. Neither am I a fame chaser who places my self worth in the number of followers I have. At last count, I had 126 followers, majority of them are my friends and people I have met in real life.

Last night, I got kicked out of Instagram.

At first I thought it was a glitch. Perhaps an internet connection issue or something went haywire with Instagram's servers. I keyed in my username and password and instead of getting back into my account, I received a message that said my account has been disabled for violating Instagram's community guidelines or terms of use.

Suffice to say that this baffled me. No specific reason was given. Just a general one indicating that I may or may not have gone against one or more of the long list of guidelines given by Instagram.

The question remains as to which guideline I violated.

I do not post photos taken by other people and claim they are mine. My photos are not pornographic in nature, neither are they violent or offensive. I do not post photos of other people claiming to be those people. I do not pretend to be someone else in my posts. My profile name is Farah Harith and my user name is @farahharith. My name, in real life, is Farah Harith. It is not a pseudonym. I am who I say I am and I have never attempted to pretend to be someone else via this account.

I do not spam other people's postings with advertisements. I do not sell ubat tinggi, krim pemutih ketiak, fake make-up or any other product for that matter. I am not a businesswoman.

I am definitely over 13 years old, which is the minimum age required to open an Instagram account. I do not use bots or third party apps to generate Likes or followers. I do not Like other people's photos in bulk, exceeding the quota per hour set by Instagram for users to Like posts. In fact, under the Photos You Have Liked tab in my account, there is less than 15 pictures. 15. Over the course of being an Instagram user for more than five years (I happen to be very stingy with my Likes).

So what then is the problem?

As I mentioned earlier, I am not affected with regards to losing followers. I value my pictures and captions but because I linked my Instagram to Facebook, there is a duplicate of my posts on Facebook which means my posts are pretty much archived and is safely available there. So losing access to my account is not that big a deal in that sense.

However, what upsets me is how easily Instagram can lock people out of their accounts without fair warning. My concern is how does this account deactivation work? Is it simply computer-generated? Is there a human element to it?

I believe I have not done anything to generate an account deactivation solely from Instagram alone. This brings me to the point of user-based account reporting.

The only reason I can think of right now on being kicked out of my Instagram is that some people probably reported my account for either spam or being inappropriate. If that is the case, did Instagram review the reports manually or is it computer-generated? Is it based on the number of people reporting or is there some form of evaluation by human beings involved?

I would assume it is the former because if a human being were to evaluate my account and my activity on Instagram, I don't believe they will find anything wrong.

This is what upsets me. If the deactivation process is entirely dependant on the number of people reporting an account, how is that fair? It is even more unsettling when an account gets deactivated without a specific reason and warning.

I can understand that Instagram has a huge number of users and it would be quite a daunting task to manually evaluate all reports but they can at least provide some form of cushion for users because anonymous reporting isn't really fair play.

Prior to deactivating an account, a warning would be appropriate. Instagram should also provide an offline archive link for users so they won't entirely lose their posts. I backed up mine but what about those who didn't?

I say anonymous reporting is unfair because there is no accountability involved. Assuming somebody hates me purely for personal reasons, he or she can report my account for spam or being inappropriate and get other people to do the same and I run the risk of losing my account simply because of personal reasons.

The same can be said for businesses and their competitors. If one side rallies enough people to report a competitor's business account, voila the account goes off the air. How is that fair?

I tested this theory using two other accounts I created on Instagram. Note that I don't know how Instagram's algorithm works but I just did what I did to highlight the principle of the matter.

I used one account to report my other account, which only had one post and was not actively posting or commenting and Liking posts, for spam. My report was received by Instagram. Not half an hour later, I received a message from Instagram saying, "We have taken xxxxx's account down. Thanks for reporting this account. We've removed it from Instagram because it violated our Community Guidelines. Your feedback is important in helping us keep the Instagram community safe."

What did Instagram base its "because it violated our Community Guidelines" on? Is it stated in the community guidelines that a single report, no matter how baseless and unfounded, will be acted upon? How did my dormant account qualify as spam?

(In any case, I deactivated the dormant account prior to Instagram 'taking it down' but that is immaterial in my opinion, because I would assume that up to this point, there is no human involvement on their part.)

Screenshot of the message I received from Instagram on the test I conducted

That simple. Just one report and voila. My assumption on the algorithm is that it works on the basis of how many followers an account has. If an account has less than five followers (like the account I used for testing) then maybe one report is enough to get the account deactivated. If an account has more than 1 million followers, then perhaps it would require more than a few thousand reports.

My problem is how unfair this is. Even with less than five followers, an account is open to sabotage. And perhaps by just one person sabotaging it. The account reporting tab, to stress my point on unfairness, should just be called "report/sabotage an account".

Might as well call a spade, a spade. Clearly the tab can be used for more than just reporting a genuinely offensive or fake account.

If I had done something to violate the guidelines, as a user, I should be given the specifics. This can help guide me in the future should I choose to continue having an Instagram account.

However, what if the alleged violation is merely the result of some idiots who could not differentiate between being cyber-bullied and being genuinely criticised for doing something wrong? Or morons who can't take their idols being criticised and resort to exacting revenge by reporting an account? Should I, as a genuine user, be made to pay the price for other people's stupidity?

For now, I shall wait for Instagram to get back to me, if at all, on the outcome of my situation. I indicated that deactivating my account was a mistake and I have gone through the process of getting my account back. If anything, I want my account back purely as a matter of principle. I am not concerned about my followers and posts because my friends can easily request to follow my new Instagram and pictures are backed up. No losses there. I am just livid that they can easily deactivate accounts without so much as a detailed explanation or fair warning.

If this was a glitch, fine. But if this is the result of overly sensitive idiots and morons who idol worship celebrities, then my condolences on your lack of logic and common sense. Good luck in navigating through life as nincompoops. I may have lost my Instagram account but it is just a social media account. I can always sign up for another. If only it is as simple for you to sign up for wisdom and intellect.

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