Social media juggernaut Instagram “gutted” a small Australian business after wrongly disabling its account, its founder claimed.
Sophie Lord, who founded popular independent bridal magazine Hello May a decade ago, was preparing to celebrate the publication’s 10th birthday this week when a message from the platform left her shattered.
On Tuesday night, she received communication from Instagram declaring the company’s account had been “temporarily suspended” and that it needed to be verified.
Ms Lord claims she “followed Instagram’s instructions to a tee” – only to receive a second message on Thursday night revealing the account had been “permanently disabled” for breaching “community guidelines” – a move that has left her “devastated” and “desperate”.
Ms Lord said Instagram was mistaken, and that Hello May had never violated a single rule, leaving her with “no idea” why the decision had been made.
“It directed me to another form to appeal the decision if it was made in error but I was met with a pop-up error upon submitting that form with no further instructions on how to proceed,” an emotional Ms Lord told news.com.au.
“We were prompted by Instagram recently to change our password, which we did, and we use a third party scheduling app called Sked Social like tens of thousands of other small businesses do (who post with actual devices from their Melbourne office) but I don’t see how either of those actions would see us booted off Instagram.
“It’s incredibly frustrating and quite traumatising to see 10 years of hard work disappear overnight. The language they use does nothing but cause stress and panic.”
She explained that Instagram was a crucial tool for the independently-owned publication, which is run by Ms Lord and a small team of five who were “incredibly passionate” about the wedding sector, and which supports and promotes a “plethora of small businesses within that industry”.
“Instagram is one of the primary ways we communicate with that readership,” she said.
“It’s hard to put a dollar figure on what we’ve lost. How do you put a price on 10 years of hard work? We had 165,000 followers which aren’t just superficial numbers to us, that’s an incredible community of real human beings we’ve worked had to cultivate relationships with over the last decade.
“To see it vanish overnight has left me in total shock.”
She said the fact the account was deactivated on Hello May’s 10th anniversary on Thursday added “insult to injury”.
“Our 10th birthday issue hit the newsstands nationally and we had a huge social media roll out planned to celebrate with our community – essentially a day that was meant for celebration has turned to heartache,” she said.
“We’ve paused that roll out as we fully expected our account to be reinstated overnight, but now that has not happened we’re at a total loss as to what to do.
“After two years of Covid decimating the wedding industry this just feels like we’re being kicked down on our way back up.”
Ms Lord said she would have had to “start from scratch” to rebuild an Instagram following with a new, backup account that “simply doesn’t have the reach our original account has”.
“We’ve also lost all of our communications in the private messages. Why Instagram encourages us to use these in app services when they can be taken away without explanation is beyond me,” she said.
“There’s no way to know how it will affect revenue but I will say that Hello May’s strong following on Instagram was a valuable asset to our advertising partners.
“It sounds dramatic to say but Instagram’s current appeals and verification system for suspended accounts, especially wrongly suspended accounts like ours who have not done a thing wrong, is a special kind of emotional abuse.”
She said Instagram had a duty to the countless small businesses around the world that relied on the platform to reach their audience.
“I’d like to know why, worldwide, so many accounts have been accidentally suspended in November by Instagram. I’d like to see them review their appeals process,” she said.
“If an account like ours, that’s never even broken a single community guideline can be suspended in error, and then during the appeals process be disabled completely, something is very wrong with their system.
“We’re an industry founded on love, and we just don’t understand how our account and following can be completely wiped clean when people like Donald Trump still have visible accounts on Instagram.”
It turns out that Ms Lord’s nightmare situation is not an isolated one, with a similar Instagram suspension hitting Hello May advertiser Amelie George earlier this week, while another wedding industry vendor, Electric Confetti, also had the same thing happen to them recently.
“The fact that it’s happened to three businesses in the Australian wedding industry in the past week – that I know about – cannot be a coincidence,” Ms Lord said.
“For an independent publication, that’s spent a decade devoted to promoting the work of the many talented small businesses that make up the Australian wedding industry, it’s huge, and we’re absolutely gutted 10 years of hard work in building that community has evaporated in less than 48 hours – with no clear explanation as to why.”
Following further investigation after being approached by news.com.au, Instagram eventually reinstated Hello May’s account. But Ms Lord said she wanted to share her story with the public to “ensure no other small business has to suffer this cruel and unusual punishment”.
News.com.au contacted Instagram for comment.