How I lost and recovered my Instagram account in 36 hours

How I lost and recovered my Instagram account in 36 hours

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As many of you saw, the @watchstudies Instagram account was suspended on Tuesday. And while it was reinstated by Wednesday afternoon, the ~36 hour blackout raised many questions, concerns, and of course, stresses about life as a creator on Instagram.

What follows below is a recount of what happened (as far I experienced it anyway), what I did, and my best guess as to why I was forced into a mandated IG vacation. I say my best guess because frankly, I have no clue what actually happened and I think that’s the way Instagram wants it to be.

That’s one way to wake up

Shortly after 6:30am on Tuesday morning, my 7 month old son began his morning routine of alerting the entire house that he was awake and hungry. En route to his room, I did a quick notifications catch-up – as one does – only to be stopped dead in my tracks by an email I’d never seen before.

How I lost and recovered my Instagram account in 36 hours

I quickly checked to make sure it wasn’t a phishing email and sure enough, it was legit. I wonder what post it was, I thought to myself. I one-two swiped my way past the lock screen and directly into Instagram only to be greeted by an even more alarming notice:

How I lost and recovered my Instagram account in 36 hours

Shit. Lost in the daze of the morning and the disbelief of what I was looking at, I did the only thing I could: I texted Eric (aka @averagewatches) a screenshot and proceeded toward my bellowing child.

https://www.instagram.com/averagewatches/

What I did next

It was nearly 9am by the time I got both of my kids to daycare and was back at home. Having passively reflected on my plan of action over the last 2 hours, I plopped myself down in the living room and got to work.

Step 1: Appeal

Filling out the official Instagram appeal forms felt like the clearest first step. As I looked into things, I realized there were actually multiple ways to appeal. I ended up filling out these two forms through the guidance of this video that Eric had shared with me:

  1. Form 1
  2. Form 2

The video linked above shares some interesting tactics on how to best fill out the form, but for whatever reason, I decided to do it my own way instead.

In filling out Form 1, I wrote a short essay on everything that I felt legitimized my account. I explained what Watch Studies was about and even provided stats and metrics.

For Form 2, I selected the option for “business, product, or service” and uploaded a screenshot of my domain registration for watchstudies.co.

It’s important to note that neither of these approaches worked for me since, as you’ll read later, all my appeals were eventually rejected.

Step 2: Consult friends

Next, I reached out to a small handful of friends who I knew had gone through something similar, in hopes of getting some advice on what to do next.

The common advice across each person I spoke with was:

  1. Fill out the appeal forms (check!)
  2. Make some noise in the community
  3. Wait and hope

Cool cool cool.

Step 3: Make some noise

By mid morning, the news of my disappearance was already starting to circulate around the community, thanks to some stories and posts from friends. At this point, I figured I’d get an “official statement” out through my personal account and while I was at it, I could try to get Instagram's attention. 

How I lost and recovered my Instagram account in 36 hours

My post included a few things:

  • An ask to be introduced to anyone at Meta, Facebook, or Instagram that could help
  • An ask to share my post to help get the word out further
  • Documentation of the suspension notifications, the last profile screenshot I had on my phone, and some general info on what Watch Studies was

How I lost and recovered my Instagram account in 36 hours

And man did you all make some noise! As the day went on, I saw more and more new and familiar names show up in my comments and DMs, each one protesting my suspension and showing support for my return. Needless to say, my personal account saw the most engagement it had seen in a long, long while.

How I lost and recovered my Instagram account in 36 hours

Two amazing things came out of this:

  1. It was truly heartwarming to see support pour out from every corner of the community. Plus, replying to comments and DMs over the course of the day helped me still feel connected and entertained.
  2. By day’s end, I got connected with about a dozen super kind people – some friends, some strangers – who offered to submit tickets internally at Facebook/Instagram on my behalf and vouch for my legitimacy.

Only a matter of time

Since the very beginning, I held onto a sense of optimism that this would all get sorted. I felt confident that I had done nothing wrong, after all, so it felt like it was just a matter of how long I’d have to wait for a human at Instagram to come to the same conclusion.

Along the way, a handful of people had told me that the 24 hour mark would be a turning point (although I wasn’t sure whether that meant 24 hours after the suspension or 24 hours after the first appeal). Another handful had also told me that it took them weeks and even months to regain access to their account.

And as Tuesday slowly turned into Wednesday with no change in my account status in sight, I started to believe in the latter group’s reality.

At some point, I tried logging in again and was greeted by a new prompt.

How I lost and recovered my Instagram account in 36 hours

More interestingly, the “Learn more” button took me to a specific page about the sale and promotion of counterfeit goods and replicas. On that page, I found another form to appeal these claims specifically, so I filled that out too (my third appeal).

And then suddenly

At 11:52 AM on Wednesday morning, just as Tuesday’s optimism was starting to deplete, I was stopped dead in my tracks once again by a push notification that read: “A Message from Facebook”.

How I lost and recovered my Instagram account in 36 hours

Just like that. A few canned lines, a cold admission of error, and the sweetest 5 words I had heard in 36 hours: Your account has been reactivated.

Did my appeals work? Did a human actually review my case? Did I exceed the time of my temporary suspension??

My account had been reactivated almost as mysteriously and arbitrarily as it had gone down. But I had no desire to dwell on curiosities as I quickly logged in, confirmed that my account was indeed reactivated, and posted in celebration. And you were all there to celebrate with me!

The plot thickens

After a restful night coming off the high of being back online and the thought of putting everything behind me, I woke up on Thursday to this fun notice:

How I lost and recovered my Instagram account in 36 hours

Over the next hour, I received 2 more identical emails, each one presumably in response to the 3 appeals I had submitted.

Thankfully, despite these scary emails, my account was still active. Clearly the support system for dealing with suspensions is fragmented enough that an account can be both wrongly and justifiably suspended at the same time.

While I'm still 1000% sure I haven't violated any terms, I decided to simply ignore these notifications. That said, the contents of the email helped me narrow in my guess at what they think I've done.

So then, what happened??

As you've seen from all the artifacts I've presented so far, there's nothing that even remotely tries to provide any specific context behind the alleged violations. As such, it's hard for anyone to really know what caused this whole kerfuffle.

That said, here's what I think triggered the suspension based on the appeal rejection emails:

  • On Monday, the day before the suspension, I posted a photo of my two Santoses, one of which was on a leather strap (an OEM one purchased from Cartier)
  • In that post's caption, I made a soft mention of a brand that offers third party straps for a lot of popular brands of watches (it said something along the lines of "Great that folks like X are making closed systems more open", in reference to how much I enjoy Cartier's OEM straps but wished I could easily get more of them)
  • That brand is currently battling the suspension of one of their accounts due to alleged term violation

BUT, to clarify:

  • None of that brand's products were actually in my photo (like I said, the strap in the photo was OEM)
  • I made no mention of the brand's products
  • The caption wasn't about the brand (but rather the broader question of OEM vs 3rd party straps)
  • The suspended account wasn't even the account I mentioned

Clearly, the claim that I sell and promote counterfeit goods or replicas is a massive stretch (because, well, I don't). But if you strip away human judgment and intuition and any ability to acknowledge context, I guess I can kind of see how my post might trigger a flag? You have to read that in an increasingly high pitched voice in order to capture the true fragility of that guess.

What now?

I think the scariest part of this ordeal was that I came out of it with very little lessons on what not to do to avoid suspension again in the future.

However, in the short time – which, by the way, felt like forever – that I was locked out of my account, a couple critical principles of content creation felt especially relevant.

1. Diversify your platforms

The classic "don't put all your eggs in one basket" thing. Many content creators exist on multiple platforms so that, in the event that one account goes down, they still exist in other forms.

I need to get better at this, though I'm thankful that this website remains independently owned and managed beyond the walls of Instagram. Which leads me to my second point...

https://www.instagram.com/p/CjQgLdbLTRB/

2. Own your content

If you create proprietary content, ensure that it lives in a space that you own and control fully. Having your own website is the simplest way to break free from arbitrary constraints of a third party governing body. This is why I made the move to start writing my tutorials here rather than just on Instagram.

Instagram for me represents the convergence of community. Sure, it's a means of content creation, but my presence on the platform is fueled by the fact that all of you are there. The content itself – photos and tutorials – live on in other forms so that if Instagram disappears (or just my account), I don't lose the actual work. (Although the lost connections to all of you would still suck tremendously.)


A big part of me wants to forget this whole thing ever happened and just get back to doing what I love. A bigger part of my wants to make sure that if anyone else goes through a similar situation, they have a few pointers on how to tackle it. So in that spirit, feel free to keep the questions and discussions flowing here or over on Instagram. As always, my inbox is open so don't hesitate to reach out!

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1 comment

Watchcompanion

Brilliant essay on what happened, and how to recover. It’s a guess as to what triggered the deactivation in the first place. Was it an automatic system keyed to certain words? Or an ML model trying to understand the nuance of your caption? Who knows.

Nonetheless, sage advice. Like you would your financial portfolio, diversify, diversify, diversify!

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