Personal Column: Hacked

Personal Column: Hacked

I’m lying about who I am.

Or at least, that’s what Instagram says. I’d been scrolling with half my brain for the last half hour, when suddenly, a red error message:

You have been logged out. 

Hm. Is it possible to break the app by ignoring the time warnings (sorry, Wellness Checks) on it for so long?

I shrug it off, decide it was just the half-reliable service in my building, and try once more to get back to work.

But, of course, I don’t. My brain craves that fix of dopamine, even if it leaves me that much more upset and frustrated with myself afterwards. I try logging back in, but apparently none of the ten passwords I have (or the plethora of slightly different versions of each one) are my password. I know I’m forgetful, but this seems like a bit much. And that’s when I get the email:

From: <[email protected]>

Subject: Email changed on Instagram

The worst possibility dawned on me: that in my mindless stupor of procrastination, I had gotten myself—or rather, my account—hacked. Just minutes ago, one of my classmate’s Instagram accounts reached out to mine, asking if I could help with something. “Sure,” I had replied without thinking. They asked if they could get Instagram to send me a help link since their phone wasn’t receiving texts, for whatever reason.

Now, before you roll your eyes—I didn’t click on any links. Not a single one. I said yes to who I thought was my friend, and they asked me to take a screenshot of the link—in fact, they said specifically not to click on the link. Strange.

So I did, and the next thing I know, I’m sighing with frustration as the login screen tells me that I’ve forgotten my password. Or that my account doesn’t exist. Or that I should just see their Help Center. 

Yeah, I visited it. I sure did. And it took me in circles. If my email was changed without my knowledge, I could report my account as possibly hacked. If my account was hacked, I should log in and recover my account with my old email. If I tried logging in with my old email, I wasn’t who I said I was.

I found myself in the same dead-end at least ten separate times. Take a video selfie. This helps us confirm that you’re a real person and confirm your identity. Fine, here we go. I held my phone in front of me as if I were my immigrant grandmother trying to figure out a smartphone for the first time. I turned my head from side to side, trying my best to school my features into a place between ‘me’ (tired, frustrated, angry) and me (smiling for the camera, brushed hair, mostly happy).

From: <[email protected]>

Subject: We Received Your Request

And now, all I had to do was wait—

From: <[email protected]>

Subject: Your Information Couldn’t Be Confirmed


I googled ‘video selfie instagram not working,’ ‘instagram account hacked,’ and ‘how to get my instagram account back’ amongst other things. Each one lead me to the same place—that stupid video selfies that, apparently, never seemed to actually look like me.

After my upteenth attempt, something occurred to me—maybe Instagram was more concerned with me looking like a “real person” than me looking like “me.” And one of the most common giveaways when it came to CGI and digital art of people was their eyes. It seemed like a long shot, but I sighed, opened the app, and this time stared dead into the camera as I turned my head this way and that way.

To my dismay, relief, and mostly anger:

From: <[email protected]>

Subject: Your Information Is Confirmed

I logged in to discover that I was now apparently a stock photo of a baby, and that I was now “avaporvit” instead of “ayvuhlimb.” The hacker deleted my bio, but kept all of my posts and story highlights up. Strange.

But I soon realized why. The more my profile still looked like me, the more believable the “Have you tried crypto mining?” message that my hacker sent to every contact in my DMs looked. (My poor middle school PE teacher. Coach Medina, if you’re reading this, don’t invest in crypto. Please.)

I quickly got to apologizing and clarifying to all of the confused messages in my inbox. To my relief, most of the people the hacker had messaged had enough sense to either ignore “me” or send memes in response. I deleted the post promoting cryptocurrency from my feed, unfollowed the “influencer” my hacker had cited under my name, and posted a quick “sorry, got hacked lol” on my story.

Gosh, that took long eno—

You have been logged out.

I wanted to scream. Again??

So I repeated the process, quickly changing my email, phone number, 2-factor authentication settings, and every security detail about my account as soon as I got back in.

You have been logged out.

I may have actually screamed, this time. I felt like a stupid teenage girl worried about losing her followers, trapped in her little phone. And while that was true to an extent, I was more worried about my photos that I had perfectly curated, posted at specific times to commemorate specific moments. My Instagram account was like my own little museum of moments I wanted to remember. People I wanted to remember, too.

As I tried contacting a real person at Instagram through every means available to me, I began to realize that I would probably never get my account back. No matter how much the moments I had documented on there meant to me, my account was one of millions on their platform. I wasn’t a celebrity or an influencer or anyone of relative importance to Instagram—they wouldn’t care. I knew this happened all the time. I knew that big companies like Instagram couldn’t care less if my email and password were changed from somewhere in Denmark at three in the morning. I knew I was far from being the first or last victim of Instagram’s cybersecurity negligence.

So when I got back into my account for the fifth time, I took screenshots of my stories, my page, and all the little moments I wanted to keep.

I double, triple, quadruple checked that I had gotten every corner of my page—every post and every comment, every archived story and my highlights. I hated every second of it, but I was too fed up with the cycle of losing and getting back my account to care.

Several days and nights of stress and worry over a social media account. An account that I’d had for years and years, but I couldn’t let that keep me in this frustrating time loop.

If I couldn’t have this goddamn account back, neither could my hacker.

Are you sure you want to deactivate your account?

No, but I’m too exasperated and petty to care at this point.

From: <[email protected]>

Subject: Your Instagram account is scheduled for deletion