If you’ve ever had the misfortune of having your Instagram account deleted… this article is for you.
I work primarily as a fashion and fine art photographer but also teach at the New York Institute of Photography. Because of this I am in constant communication with other photographers looking to improve their work and help promote their businesses. After reading testimonials about how Instagram increases exposure for countless photographers and brands, I decided to sign up and create my first account.
I read a few tutorials on how to get the most out of the platform, signed up, and, after some careful cropping, uploaded nine photos. Immediately my phone started to light up with likes and followers. This included several fashion magazines, a stylist from Vogue Italy, and a group of street photographers creating bold work in B&W.
My website traffic increased and I even got two orders for prints. It was exciting! Through the app I was also discovering designers, artists and other photographers who were doing beautiful things and inspiring me. I’d racked up several dozen followers my first day and was loving the whole experience. I went to sleep that night happy I’d found a new way to get my work out there.
The next day I picked up my phone to check my number of followers and received this same message:
NOOOO!!! I felt a wave of shock and confusion, as if I’d unknowingly trespassed onto private property. Did I upload too many images? Were they too large for Instagram’s requirements? Did I somehow offend a fellow user?
I went through their policies looking for what I might have done to cause the deletion. I noticed I posted this photo from a fine art series I’m doing on the myth of Aphrodite and Ares.
Since I was given no details by the company. The only possible violation I could imagine was that this image could be considered partial nudity. Even though all you can see in the frame are two arms and a small portion of the male model’s back. At this point I’d like to mention that there are many completely nude photos on Instagram accounts.
Kendell Jenner’s account has a photo of a bare behind balancing a toy car, to name just one example. At the time of this writing her account has 30 million followers and counting. Recently, Justin Bieber posted a photo of himself standing naked on a boat and again, nothing happened to his account. But alas, I’m not a teen icon.
Strangely there are many documented cases of Instagram deleting tasteful photos of women. Photos that don’t violate their policy, but for whatever reason are deemed obscene by the company. Such was the case with fashion photographer Petra Collins, and here’s a more recent example of a woman who’s account was removed after she posted an innocent photo of her bare stomach after childbirth. It’s interesting that over-sexualized images are given a pass while artistic work and simple body shots are cause to expel certain users.
Now I have no idea why my account was deleted. I don’t know if it was a simple technical glitch, or a part of some broader conspiracy to censor the platform. Honestly, I just want people to see my photos.
I decided to create another account under a different email and uploaded nine more photos that had no hint of nudity.
The likes returned. Followers came back. YES! But the next morning, I logged on to find the same message. “Your account has been deleted.”
This time I was positive that the content of my images did not violate their policies. “Maybe it’s a mistake.” I thought. I wrote Instagram’s help center hoping to get more details on why my account was deleted. Days passed and no response. So I wrote them again. No luck. I discovered Instagram is owned by Facebook, so I wrote to them. Weeks passed… Silence.
During this period, I of course did more research into the situation. I found forum after forum of people who’ve experienced similar issues. Instagram support appears to be a black hole which offers no explanation to inquiries when accounts are deleted. At the end of 2014, the app obliterated so many of its users that many saw the purge as the end of the Instagram world. The phrase, #instagramrapture spread like wildfire across the Web, leaving many people heart broken, and many businesses robbed of thousand-plus followings they had legitimately created.
Instagram claims that all of your content is permanently deleted with no hope of any of it ever being reactivated. This is a flat out lie meant to dissuade you from contacting them. We’re living in world where most online information is never truly deleted, especially by Facebook. Instagram is no exception since many of the accounts they supposedly deleted were re-activated once the negative press started to roll in.
I realize that many accounts on Instagram are fraudulent. Some are full of spam hashtags that lead to scams or post annoying bot campaigns. These accounts can clog up feeds and degrade the overall user experience. I completely understand an account being erased for abusive content, violence, porn, or general spam bot behavior. But to delete users who are simply trying to promote their art, business or connect with friends is not only bad policy, it’s oppressive.
The worst part of it all is that Instagram is a wonderful place! It’s a great way to connect and market yourself to people all over the world. As someone who creates photographs for a living, I find it invigorating that so many millions of people are using the app to explore the visual language of photography. In my short time using the service I found it to be a powerful, enjoyable tool. This makes the coldness of their silent scorn all the more devastating. Is this an app I can wholeheartedly recommend to my students? Nope.
To be fair, I’ve read that Instagram is too big to reply to emails. I suppose it’s understandable that a company with 300 million users can’t respond to every inquiry on how to upload a photo, or download the app. However I feel unwarranted deletions should garner some kind of response. Even if it’s an email that takes a few weeks to arrive.
What if Gmail (over 400 million users) started deleting accounts and didn’t respond to users asking why? Is this the future of how social media platforms deal with people? Must these Internet companies become massive Goliaths that can crush us without any recourse or explanation? Is the new policy for the populous that unless you’re a celebrity or someone who has access to the media, you don’t matter?
I’d like to ask someone, and in fact I did. And like a peasant hurling complaints against the cold skin of a colossal giant… the silence is deafening.
About the author: Adam Waltner is a professional fashion and fine art photographer based in New York City. He is also a mentor at the New York Institute of Photography. This article was also published here.