The lack of clarity surrounding trademark infringement, copyright take-downs, content removal, and the appeals process at Instagram is nothing new... until it happens to you.
My wife loves her content. Luxury goods are a passion and a pastime for her, and a way for her to express and connect with the world. This means that it is part of my world too - not so much the content or the goods, but being a cheerleader for her and helping in my own way. It is also my (self-appointed) job to help make sure her technology works the way she expects, because that is my area of expertise.
I also have made quite a bit of effort to get her to be self sufficient. Sometimes she does not care for that very much because initially it is easier just to have me do the work - but she has learned that it also means working on my schedule, and competing with my hobbies and pastimes.
Her primary outlets are Instagram and YouTube, with a smattering of Facebook, Pintrest, and a few other things (I am sure) tossed in for good measure. This has also been her stress relief during the pandemic and while she has been looking for work, so this week has been particularly hard for her and us.
Unsurprising but no less amazing to me is that as she stumbled through the shock and emotion of having Instagram yank her account with nearly no explanation, as they never provide any reasons for disabling accounts more than ‘it violates our community guidelines or terms of service’ (paraphrased), the gap between the online help about what should be provided and what is provided is somewhat astounding.
Much of the following is conjecture, pieced together from both real events and speculation from the luxury goods Instagram community based on their common past experiences. Please note that all times are Central US.
On Monday morning August 3rd, two emails popped into my wife’s inbox stating that content had been removed, then another came in at approximately 1am on August 4th. By 3am, the account was completely disabled.
By 12pm August 5th, Instagram was reporting that @luxpetite was not a valid user, so there was no further appeal for the account deactivation.
Of course, the response from Instagram/Facebook is non-existent. I have personally learned quite a bit about submitting appeals to Facebook in the past 48 hours as of this writing, and want to share some of those with people who may deal with this in the future:
1) If you submit an appeal with an email address that is not linked to an Instagram account, you will not get an acknowledgment.
- I tested this multiple times with a variety of email addresses and effectively confirmed the process
2) If you submit the same content for an appeal, you will not get a subsequent acknowledgment.
- Again, multiple tests here. Varying the appeal got a new response, copying and pasting did not. This is actually pretty smart.
3) Your appeals go into a black hole.
- Nobody should be surprised about this one; the response even tells you (paraphrased again) “just because you submitted an appeal does not mean you will get a response.”
Instagram’s Help Center
Once an account has been removed by Instagram, there is no further recourse using the online support forms to file an appeal for an account deactivation. I do not know if this is intentional, but it seems like a bug to me - if the content was truly removed in error, or an account was disabled in error, how would you get it back?
Instagram does have a support phone number, (650) 543-4800, and a support email address, email@example.com - but in the times of covid, the phone number says it is not staffed because of the pandemic (though from reports, it was not staffed before, so this is just a convenient excuse) and the email address has an auto-reply stating that it is no longer monitored.
It is helpful, however, to know what Instagram says that they will share with the end user, and that can be found at this url: https://help.instagram.com/222826637847963?helpref=page_content
The important information that should be coming across to the accused is the following:
- Report number
- Rights owner's name
- Email address provided by the reporting party
- Details of the report
- Instructions on how to submit an appeal
And the reason for that is stated directly below the things Instagram will share:
The person whose content was removed may contact you with the information you provide. For this reason, you may want to provide a valid generic business or professional email address in your report.
As you can see in the images of the notifications of infringement, only the report number was provided. The only other thing that was provided was the text of the post, or in the last case, just the account name.
My wife’s content has dominated the first two pages of Google, Bing, DuckDuckGo, and other search engines for some time when you search for her brand; the contact information from her is easily found and her Instagram content is mirrored to her blog and YouTube channels, and duplicated on a dedicated Facebook account. The interesting thing about all of this is that there has been no cease and desist to her email or contact forms, we have not had the same notifications from YouTube or Facebook.
Further, as her technology caretaker, I have received no notifications about trademark infringement, and if someone was after the LuxPetite brand, should they not be going after luxpetite.com, the most visible aspect of the brand?
In my opinion as not-a-lawyer, the unregistered mark would suffice as evidence in the form of a counterclaim, but there is no way to make a counterclaim with Instagram any longer.
We are going to probably have to rebuild the Instagram account from scratch; luckily we were able to grab copies of the content from the Facebook account so we actually have a full backup of the images and the text for all the posts. We will find a way to get it done, even if it is posting via copy/paste to a new account. Unfortunately since Instagram failed to provide the information about the “trademark infringement” (quotes intentional) we do not know if we will actually be stepping on someone’s toes again when we get the content back up.
I know it has been said before, but the lack of transparency around take-downs for social media, especially for small brands and content creators is really disheartening. I have worked with internet technology since 1994, and it is a problem that repeats itself in various ways across that time span and across companies, sites, and apps.
Whether it is deleting negative comments blindly (Yelp, Travelocity) or shadowbanning (reddit, also Instagram), there are too many ways things can be done to people who have no other recourse, and even more, do not have the luxury of a husband who works in technology to help.
- Backups, backups, backups. Instagram and Facebook have tools that allow you to download your content. Use them.
- Be prepared. If you have built a following, people will come after you. If social media is a time investment for you, set aside time to understanding the platform and its limitations.
- Work to find the cracks in the system to get someone’s attention. It took time to track down email addresses that might work or might not; we are still waiting to see if there is any response on some avenues of communication.
- Work your networks. My wife is working with a number of her associates from the luxury content community who have either had this exact situation happen to them or that can put her in touch with resources inside Instagram to try and figure things out.
- Be patient. We are on Day 3 of this debacle, and we are working under the assumption that because Instagram acted in good faith on a bad claim, they will likely refuse to make things right. Some of those contacts my wife has claim that it can be weeks or months and then suddenly an account will be restored.
- Assume the worst. You probably will not get your social media back. Instagram, Facebook, Google, TikTok, and others do not have the staffing to respond to the volume of complaints they get, let alone help out the little guys who can not scream loud enough. Have a disaster recovery plan in place for your content.
There is no conclusion to this story, yet. I will update if anything changes, or add tips for getting access to your content if I am able to secure any lines of communication that help. For now you can follow me @s_j_sadowski on twitter and @sjsadowski on Instagram. Even though I do not post much, I will be sure to post updates about this situation on those accounts.
Do you have something to share about how to work with Instagram in situations like this? Shoot me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org