In the digital landscape where visibility is prevalent, the stories of Matt Black, the Director of Marketing & Revenue at Hotel X Toronto by Library Hotel Collection in Toronto, and Courtney Watkins, the founder of Mine & Yours, stand as a reminder of the vulnerability businesses face on social media platforms. They share their trials with unexpected Instagram suspensions by Meta, the useless appeal process and how Meta needs to be held accountable.
Mine & Yours – ongoing struggle and revenue loss
Mine & Yours, a luxury resale boutique based in Vancouver, attributes approximately 60 percent of sales to Instagram. Watkins has battled with Meta repeatedly after her account was suspended three times without clear justification.
The first suspension happened November 28, 2022 and two and a half months later, Watkins was able to retrieve it. The second time occurred June 8, 2023 and Meta sent an apology two weeks after and Mine & Yours again, got its Instagram back – however, three weeks later it was taken away for unknown reasons and Watkins is still fighting to get it back.
The account was taken down a day before the brand launched its new location in Toronto and had 60,000 followers. So far, the brand has lost around $100,000 or more in the last few months and has decided to hire a lawyer.
“We were posting around 20 stories a day, and I would say around 60 percent of those items would sell so Instagram was a really big revenue driver. During the first week it went down, we started noticing less people visiting our store so our Instagram account has been a really big part of our business,” says Watkins. “It has cost us $100,000 or more, plus my team’s time, my marketing manager’s time by emailing Meta, gathering documents and we have needed to hire a lawyer.”
Black says its Instagram account, though smaller with 1700 followers, faced a similar fate as it was shut down back in September and the only reason given was “violating community guidelines,” but did not specify which one or how they can fix it. Luckily, due to having a personal connection from Meta, Black says they were able to get their account back on September 20th – 11 days after the suspension. Without the connection, Black believes the situation would remain unresolved.
“It is frightening for brands relying so much on social media presence. We have 1700 followers, when we got suspended we could have just started another account – but that is not the point. And who is to say that I wouldn’t go and do all of this and then get suspended again. There is a real flaw in their escalation process and I am very disappointed with the lack of support and they were just very apathetic,” says Black.
“Great news! Your account has been permanently disabled.” – now deal with it!
After retrieving the “great news,” Watkins and Black were left in the dark.
The process to retrieve your account, according to Meta, is to contact their team and appeal the decision. Sounds simple and straightforward – but it’s not. Black says Meta makes it difficult, even impossible, for businesses to retrieve their accounts.
“Of course we followed those steps, which were a simple process of just logging in again and saying appeal, so we did that as there was no other additional information we could provide at that point. Later that evening, we got a notification it had been appealed and now the account was permanently disabled – no additional information provided. The steps provided were frankly useless,” says Black.
Black says even trying to login to the suspended account was a nightmare and was a “recursive loop you are stuck in.” Without his personal connection, Black says he would still be in the same loop, like several of businesses such as Mine & Yours.
Watkins says for months now they have been following the process, but are not getting anywhere and Meta can’t decide on a reason.
“Parts of me wants to be like ‘fuck off Meta, I am not using you,’ but all of that is where the world lives and our clients are on there,” says Watkins. “We are always fighting to get our account back. They have been going back and forth between counterfeit goods, copyright infringements, and fraudulent products. There are a couple of steps you can do online, and we do it multiple times a week. When we ask for further information – we don’t get anything.
Watkins still does not know why the account has been shut down and has not made any progress in reopening it, because of this she has hired a lawyer as she has lost revenue and wasted hours trying to get it back.
“It has been so long and it is negatively affecting our business and we have also paid a lot of money as we do a lot of ads in order to grow our following. So for them to just take it away and not really explain what we have done wrong – it just doesn’t seem fair and we are at a loss of what to do,” says Watkins.
Black says he was also getting nowhere by emailing the support team at Meta. In total, he was emailing five people within the same thread and instead of getting support, he was receiving useless responses.
“There was somebody there replying, but they were doing the exact opposite of providing any type of support. I understand it is a big company and there are hundreds of millions of accounts and people get hacked all the time – but we are a business. It was mind boggling to me that those five people who responded to the email thread did nothing,” says Black.
Considering businesses partner with Meta and spend money on ads, Black and Witkins say the company needs to improve this and should learn to treat small to medium businesses with more respect and improve its communication.
One reason behind Meta’s ability to close an account easily is because of AI and machine learning. Black says it appears machine learning is involved in the process as the tool flags down the account and suspends it without reason. The only way to get it back is through someone at Meta. “It is surprising, they have great business support and help, but if something goes wrong – they ghost everyone and its negligent,” says Black.
$100,000 lost and reputation concerns
As this is the third time Mine & Yours Instagram’s account has been removed, Watkins is not only worried about the revenue loss, but also reputation of her brand.
Until the old account is back, Watkins opened a new one; however, she says it looks like a new brand.
“We have been in business for 10 years, we had 60,000 followers so to go back and be launching in a new market in Toronto with 4,000 followers – it makes us look like a new brand which is okay, but we are not new. We have 10 years of experience and authentication history behind us,” says Watkins.
Watkins says she can write a caption explaining what has happened on the new instagram account, but it will be harder to find.
In addition, if the brand’s account gets shut down for counterfeiting goods, Watkins says potential customers may think the brand did something wrong and are untrustworthy.
“We were shut down because they said we were selling fake or counterfeit goods, that is really bad for a brand’s reputation. It is so incorrect of them, I feel okay because I know we are not selling counterfeit goods, but if you are a new brand with no reputation – consumers will think you did something wrong for Meta to shut you down,” says Watkins.
“Meta needs to be held accountable”
As some businesses take a huge hit due to the deplatforming, Watkins and Black say Meta needs to be held accountable for its actions.
Meta should be more transparent on the reasons behind the shutdowns, provide chances for brands to fix mistakes, learn and acknowledge mistakes when they occur and not make small to medium brands fight for its Instagram accounts. In addition,Watkins says they should also be held responsible for any reputational or financial damages as a result of Meta’s deplatforming.
Going forward, both Watkins and Black say they will still use Meta; however, will now diversify their marketing strategies as they can’t count on Meta – and so should other brands.
Although Watkins and Black do not have any advice – as they do not understand Meta’s process themselves – they suggest to not let them win, to keep fighting and to resist the urge to let it go.
“I am stubborn. I would have kept annoying all of those people until I got something. I think it is better than just accepting it because who is going to stop it from occurring again? We want to place more eyes and ears onto this situation because to be honest, it’s appalling,” says Black.