SALT LAKE CITY — When Mysha Bolen went to check on her DIY/interior design Instagram account @remingtonavenue with its community of almost half a million followers last Thursday, she received a message saying she was locked out and she had 30 days to appeal to Instagram or the account would be gone.
Bolen has been building her following and her business for over six years. And in a moment, her livelihood and all her life's work was gone.
"It's like your storefront being burned down and you have no insurance, no one to talk to, no one who can help solve the problem," Bolen said.
But about an hour after KSL.com published her story Wednesday, her account was finally restored.
Bolen has a degree in fashion design and has always been a creative, artistic person, but she didn't have any experience with power tools or doing renovations and hadn't gone to any trade schools. Those obstacles were trivial when compared to her drive to create and make a beautiful space in her home. She started sharing what she did on Instagram, and people appreciated the applicability of her tutorials.
She turned her account into a business, staying up late working on projects, forming a community with other DIYers and creating partnerships with brands like Home Depot, Walmart, Ace Hardware,Target, Serena & Lily, Magnolia Home Paint and Boll & Branch. Eventually she began sharing about her family and her lifestyle.
Frantically suspecting her account had been hacked, she and her husband Chris began to look for solutions.
From what they could piece together, they think that Mysha's Facebook account that she rarely uses was hacked, and in an effort to ensure the account was secure from the hacker, Instagram locked the Remington Avenue account.
Because they were locked out of Facebook, they couldn't use Facebook Help. Because their IP address was blocked, they had to go to a different house to create a new Instagram account to try to connect with the community and salvage what they could.
They filled out every appeal form they could find on Facebook and Instagram to have the account restored, took photos with handwritten codes for visual identification, reached out to their contacts to see if they could reach a physical person that worked at Instagram rather than a bot, and asked the community to rally behind them, tagging Instagram and Facebook to get the platforms' attention.
The couple had already been fooled once, so when their email inbox was flooded with messages from Instagram and Facebook, they didn't know which they could trust. Were these emails legitimate or were they phishing attempts? Were they from the hackers trying to get more information?
Despite all their efforts, they only got a message that their appeal had been submitted and was under review without any date or time listed of when they should hear back and no contact information for anyone they could follow up with.
"You feel paralyzed because you could make the wrong move and six years of your life and all that effort and creativity could just disappear and be gone forever," Chris Bolen said.
The scariest part is the unknown, he explained. They have spoken to other influencers who have gone through something similar. Many eventually get their accounts restored, but it can take months, during which the account may lose partnerships and sponsorships, followers and revenue. Their engagement is sometimes damaged permanently because of the algorithms the social media platforms use to promote content.
Mysha Bolen said Wednesday she is beyond relieved that the original account was restored, and hopes "that Instagram and Facebook can recognize this oversight and help small businesses and content creators using their platform day in and day out. Instagram is a huge and awesome platform that allows people like myself as a stay-at-home to create a business, but this seems like a major oversight."
With the explosion of influencer-marketing in the past few years, the Bolens and Remington Avenue are far from the only accounts that have been hacked. An increasing number of influencers have been targeted by hackers who alter the retrieval phone number and email address, change the account name to an unrecognizable handle and held the account (and business) for ransom, sometimes running ads on the account to make money. Often hackers will impersonate a brand that offers a hefty price for a collaboration but require the user to log in to third party app.
Influencers without direct connections at Instagram or Facebook fear losing their entire business forever. And some say Instagram has not created a secure, efficient communication line to fix the problem. There is no support email, direct chat, or phone number. Instead, the app suggests using preventative measures, like two-factor authentication, not using the same password for multiple accounts, not clicking unverified links and not posting objectionable material that could get your account frozen.
"Some of these companies that have so much power and so much of our information aren't offering help. What about the small people?" Chris Bolen said.
Attempts to reach Instagram and Facebook for comment Tuesday were unsuccessful.
Mysha Bolen explained that she doesn't get emotional easily and doesn't back down from a challenge, but this particular blow has been debilitating for her.
"Mysha is one of the hardest working people I know," her husband said. "She always puts her head down. She stays up late painting, sawing. She's a creator, and she's crying every day right now. Usually, she sees a problem, she tackles and solves it. It's like I'm seeing her for the first time with a problem that she has no idea how to solve.
"She's shared her home. Our family. Our lives. It's our whole lives. She's a fixer that can't fix this."
Mysha Bolen asked people to share her post about being hacked on their stories and tag Facebook and Instagram to bring awareness. The community had come through and the new Instagram account @remingtonavenue.mysha had reached over 75,000 followers in just over 24 hours. DIY influencers with a large following and old friends from high school with a small following all came together to share Bolen's story in an attempt to get her account back. The couple largely attributes their success in restoring the account to this support.
"I am overjoyed, relieved and incredibly grateful to the community and individuals who rallied with me in support. I hope my story helps bring light to this issue so others won't have to through the same thing," she said Wednesday after the account had been restored.