A few days ago my daughter's Instagram account was hacked and sold to a different owner in less than 15 minutes!
A year and half of her work was erased completely.
Crying, heartbroken screams on the verge of a nervous breakdown, an emotional roller coaster swept the whole household as we witnessed her trying to log into her account unsuccessfully. A few minutes later she was able to login. A momentary sense of relief, only to see that pages were erased one by one until she was blocked completely from her own account and could not log in at all. "No, no, I have nothing, nothing" she cried falling apart. We did our best not to breakdown with her and instead, tried to offer her support.
Phone calls, emails and messages arrived at a daunting pace from her followers who didn't understand what was going on. Followers who became friends from all over the country and the world, from New York to California, Canada, the U.K. and Australia, all contacted her. A follower-friend from Australia gave her his personal password so that she could enter Instagram under his name to see what was posted on her own account, since she was blocked from it. I was amazed by this humane and generous gesture. Followers posted angry comments while pleading with the new account owner to "Give Mae her account back!". In the midst of this crisis, rays of caring and kindness washed over her cyber-world based in friendships that were created through bonding over similar frustrations, goals and areas of interest.
I feel like a dinosaur when it comes to all of this cyber mumbo-jumbo. It is quite embarrassing to be like this when you have a 15-year-old daughter who utilized it to build a name for herself, and dare I say, a "career" out of it. In the past year and a half, my daughter -- Mae, spent countless hours building her Instagram account while posting all original material! She shared her photography, poetry, journal entries and different style self help tips.
Within a few months, she gained 47K followers!!! Amazon approached her and offered to publish a compilation of her poetry, which is now sold on Amazon as a soft-cover and an ebook. She landed 6 part-time jobs as a Live Music and Fashion Photographer and even writes concert reviews.
It is all quite amazing to me. What did I do at her age? School, friends, school, some hobbies and dreamt of bigger things. With focus, talent and dedication she is already achieving these big things at the age of 15!
It was absolutely devastating to watch how she lost it all within minutes. As a mother you want to protect your children but what could a dinosaur like me offer in such a crisis?
"Behind every hacker there is a person with feelings and weaknesses," I told her. "Let's try to reach those guilty feelings and work them to your advantage". Naive? Yes! But we worked together while phrasing every message in order to manipulate the new owner to "do the right thing." We sent messages back and forth to the new account owner and found out that the reason Mae was targeted was because the hacker's client wanted Mae's followers and the attention her account was getting to themselves. Through this conversation, we obtained the name of an online forum where the anonymous transaction took place between the hacker and the client. The new owner changed the username slightly and freed the original username to Mae. We begged them to direct Mae's followers to the new account Mae managed to create quickly, so that all of her dedicated followers could find her again.
They agreed to it but kept it for not even 2 minutes. Less than 24 hours later, the owner realized that although the account still had over 32K followers, they were not blind followers, they were loyal and would look for Mae. They finally offered Mae to buy her account back! The sad thing is, that the will to give up Mae's account was so that they could afford to pay the hacker for a new account with double the followers.
Much work awaits Mae to recreate the body of work that existed in her old Instagram account. All of the genuine comments she received before this incident, thanking her for her advice and inspiration, are all lost in cyber space forever. In spite of this loss, Mae had the chance to discover true friends and how much appreciation and love she is surrounded by. This dinosaur, on the other hand, is not done fighting. I placed a complaint to the NY District Attorney/Cyber Crimes unit the very next day. These are complicated crimes to solve and I don't have high hopes, but I personally feel that it is our duty as citizens to do whatever we can to ensure that justice prevails.
I wonder though if this could have happened to some big-name Instagram accounts? Are they backed up? And if they are, how come the not-so-big-ones like Mae's account are not backed up? And the most important question: What kind of a 'cyber-parent' is Instagram if it doesn't protect it's 'cyber-children'? Just for the record we placed a request to Instagram's help center right away and to this day it wasn't answered.
As for the hacker and the hacker's customer, they were once children who were not taught right from wrong and therefore steal from others. This dinosaur is a mother that calls the attention of other parents to understand how important their job is in making this world a better place for all of us, especially in this new age of social media.