Woman’s Facebook was hacked and disabled. Her Instagram, too. What is Meta doing to fix it?

Some hackers go beyond malicious messages, trying to trick your friends into sending them money and causing other mayhem. They even take over social media accounts and try to hold them hostage for cash. — AFP

Ever get a message on social media that you’ve been locked out of your account? May users who try to get their accounts reinstated say the process is frustrating, and they’re at the mercy of customer service, which they say is virtually nonexistent.

It happened to Karina, who asked that we only use her first name to protect her privacy. Not only was her Facebook account disabled – wrongly, she said – but it caused her kids to be booted off Messenger Kids. And then she said her Instagram account was also blocked as it was “reviewed” by Meta, the parent company of the social media sites.

Karina said she uses the accounts to stay in touch with family and friends, and also as a tool to learn what’s happening in her community and to fundraise for her kids’ sports teams. Losing access has been disruptive, she said.

“I use it as a resource to connect to mom groups and town groups to help navigate my life as a single mom to two children,” she said. “Facebook is an invaluable resource in learning about things that one would not have otherwise known about.” When she opened the Facebook app on her phone on Aug. 30, it asked her to confirm her identity, but she kept getting an error message, she said.

So she accessed her account on her computer to change her password “in case there had been an issue of someone trying to use my account.” That worked and she was again able to access her account on her phone.

But the next day, the account was suspended and she got some troubling news.

A friend from work said they had received a photo and a “random message” from Karina’s account.

“At the same time, another friend texted me and asked what I had just sent him because he couldn’t see it anymore since it was deleted,” she said. “When I opened Facebook Messenger, I was informed that my account was disabled because I had violated their community standards by sending inappropriate pics, which they described as child pornography.” The friend said it appeared to be a photo of a nude female.

“I was appalled and worried because I would never, ever send anything remotely related to anyone being nude, especially not a child,” Karina said.

The Facebook app said Karina had 30 days to appeal the suspension.

Karina went through the steps, submitting her drivers license to prove her identity.

But after several hours, she received another message saying she was ineligible to use Facebook and her account would remain disabled. It did not provide a reason for the decision.

She tried to appeal, this time sending a photo of her passport along with an explanation that she thought her account was hacked and the questionable messages were sent by someone else.

“I clicked send and there was a response that due to the pandemic that my appeal could not be reviewed right now,” she said.

Next, she saw that her Instagram account was also suspended. It said she violated Facebook’s community standards – which apply to Instagram – and she could appeal to Facebook.

So once again she sent her passport and explanation, but she received no response.

Then she learned her daughters, ages 10 and 8, no longer had access to Messenger Kids, which was connected to Karina’s account.

“My kids were very upset because they chat with their closest friends through that app,” Karina said, noting she uses it because she can monitor their online activity. “I feel my kids are being punished through no fault of their own or mine.” Karina then tried to start a new Facebook account using a different email address, but she was foiled.

“I received a notification that my account was disabled because it looks like I was using multiple accounts,” she said. “It was asking me to verify that this new account and the other disabled account were both mine and to do that, I needed to log in to the other account to see more information. I tried to do that but couldn’t get in because it continues to tell me that my other account is disabled.” Karina asked Bamboozled for help.

Asking for a fix

Karina’s experience was bad, but it could have been worse.

Some hackers go beyond malicious messages, trying to trick your friends into sending them money and causing other mayhem. They even take over social media accounts and try to hold them hostage for cash.

A quick Google search shows Karina’s problem isn’t uncommon. People report that it’s hard to get a response from social media companies, and appeals seem to go unheard.

We reached out to Facebook, providing Karina’s photo IDs and asking it to review the account. Several emails later after more than a week, and not a peep from Facebook.

The site’s help section says the company may “disable or delete your account if it appears to have been hacked or compromised.” “If we notice unusual activity on your account, we may take steps to try to protect you and lock your account. If this happens to you, there are steps you can take to unlock your account,” it says.

It says if you think your account has been hacked, you should use this Facebook link to change your password and review recent login activity.

If you can’t log in to your account, you can complete this review form.

But Facebook doesn’t say what will happen if it doesn’t answer your request.

Opening a second account using a different name or email address violates the company’s rules, and even if you’re successful but later need to show identification to Facebook, you’ll probably end up disabled all over again.

Meta is working to build a customer service group to work on complaints, Bloomberg reported in August.

Customer service is something the company is “spending a bunch of time on,” Brent Harris, Meta’s vice president of governance, told the news organization, but he offered no further details.

With some three billion or so global customers, it would good to have people, rather than algorithms created by the people at Facebook, make such decisions. But that’s not going to help Karina, or the unknown number of others whose accounts were wrongly disabled, now.

“I thought it would be a simple fix and it wasn’t,” Karina said. “I’m disappointed at the lack of response from Facebook. I just want to be able to connect with friends and family as I have been for many years without any issues. I miss those connections.” – nj.com/Tribune News Service

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