Perth-based wedding photographer, Stefanie Buma, has criticised Instagram for disabling her business account ‘without warning for no reason’ and jeopardising her livelihood, with automated non-human bots handling account compliance.
While her account has since been reactivated, Buma was devastated after Instagram shut down her account, a crucial marketing and lead generation tool for her business.
‘That account held eight years of work and thousands of followers I had built up over time,’ Buma told News.com.au while her account was still de-activated. ‘Connections with Vogue magazine and many other publications I worked hard to achieve have now disappeared.
’95 per cent of my inquiries come from Instagram, particularly my international inquiries. Now having to start all over again is going to absolutely obliterate my entire overseas market and my credibility with high-end luxury planners who are used to sending their clients to photographers with a well-established online presence.’
Many business owners, including professional photographers, rely on Instagram and Facebook for marketing, fielding inquiries, networking and lead generation. For some photographers like Buma it’s critical for their business.
But Meta, which owns Instagram and Facebook, has a reputation for randomly disabling accounts and without warning. Account compliance is a massive function of social media, and these tasks are automated and handled go an algorithm or ‘bot’. Meta would need to hire a small country’s workforce to handle compliance on a case-by-case basis, which isn’t a viable business model. While the non-human bot algorithm probably removes the majority of accounts for legitimate issues, there will always be errors or misunderstandings where the user may not be at fault.
The problem is it’s near impossible to speak with a human operator, who could hear a quick and simple explanation and re-activate the account. This left Buma frustrated with how an automated bot process had the power to destroy her livelihood.
‘It’s absolutely ridiculous that Instagram has still not fixed their appeals system for wrongfully disabled accounts and continue to have the ability to destroy small businesses in one swipe,’ she said. ‘I have never broken a single rule, I have a feeling it may have something to do with logging in via a third party app. But for it to just log out without warning, and tell me it has been disabled, is wrong.’
Logging in via a third-party app may have, indeed, broken a rule. But withholding a business account without warning hardly seems justified.
‘Honestly, I feel so helpless. Will they ever change? Probably not, but they need to fix it. It’s clear they don’t care. I’d expect a platform this big to have [this problem] sorted, but the fact they actively block appeals is ridiculous,’ she said.
When Buma brought it up with colleagues in the wedding industry, she found many others shared a similar experience.
‘The response was “good luck ever getting it back”, because it had happened to so many of them. Some people had lost their entire personal account as well as their business account, which makes me realise how much we depend on the platform,’ Buma said. ‘It’s obviously a rampant problem when it keeps happening, and people are going to desperate measures.
This comes just over a month after independent Australian wedding magazine, Hello May, had its account ‘mistakenly’ deactivated, which the owner described as being ‘traumatising’.
‘We were prompted by Instagram recently to change our password, which we did, and we use a third party scheduling app called Sked Social like tens of thousands of other small businesses do but I don’t see how either of those actions would see us booted off Instagram,’ Sophie Lord, Hello May founder, told News.com.au. ‘It’s incredibly frustrating and quite traumatising to see 10 years of hard work disappear overnight. The language they use does nothing but cause stress and panic.’
The Hello May account, with 163,000 followers, was later re-instated however Lord described Instagram’s appeals process as ’emotional abuse’
‘There’s no way to know how it will affect revenue but I will say that Hello May’s strong following on Instagram was a valuable asset to our advertising partners. It sounds dramatic to say but Instagram’s current appeals and verification system for suspended accounts, especially wrongly suspended accounts like ours who have not done a thing wrong, is a special kind of emotional abuse.’
It’s a reminder for some business owners to have safeguards in place, such as building a network database outside social media, and not rely entirely on social media for certain tasks.