Sheela Lalani is one of many small business owners who rely on social platforms to generate extra vacation income. Her Instagram shop of one-of-a-kind, artisan children’s clothing – adorable modeled of smiling children happily twirling their clothes – has attracted almost 13,000 followers. She was recently launching her holiday collection when suddenly any hope of promoting her new clothing items to followers was abruptly dashed when Meta deleted her Instagram account. They also deactivated her personal Facebook account, her Facebook business page and her latest Instagram boutique shop profile.
Lalani was dismayed, but then the situation worsened. Despite the deactivated accounts, the PayPal account she linked to her social media pages to buy ads to promote her business was hit with a $900 fee. She immediately contacted PayPal to dispute the charge — and is still awaiting a refund — but she also knew that PayPal’s intervention wouldn’t solve the larger issue. Someone had bought Facebook or Instagram ads using her PayPal account and she felt that because Meta had deactivated all her accounts she could not report this behavior to Meta and stop all future payments.
“This is so unfair to business owners and seems criminal,” Lalani told Ars.
What happened to Lalani appears to have happened to dozens of individuals and small business owners who have complained on the r/facebookdisabledme subreddit. A hacker gains access to a meta account and then adds their account to the business owner’s advertising account before removing the original account owner. At this point, the hacker has completely taken over the ad account. Then the hacker quickly moves to nudge the original user of Meta before noticing that the ad account has been seized. To do this, the hacker posts inappropriate content such as pornography, which prompts meta-content moderators to quickly disable the original account. Once an account was deactivated, small business owners told Ars they are “in an impossible position,” as is Lalani. Many business owners told Ars that any attempts to appeal Meta’s decisions have been repeatedly denied.
“Complaints to Facebook have essentially gone unheeded,” Darel Parker, who works in network engineering and systems administration and also lost access to his business accounts, told Ars.
Parker collects complaints on the subreddit. He also launched a website to follow developments with accounts disabled by Meta for hacking. Last week he said he lost access to several Instagram and Facebook accounts, as well as two dozen other business accounts he manages as part of his business. He said that in addition to some users struggling to get refunds after hackers seized their ad accounts, business owners are suffering from emotional stress, loss of reputation and resulting loss of income.
When Parker’s accounts were deactivated, he emailed Facebook through the support portal and tagged Facebook and Meta on Twitter, but like many others on the subreddit, he received no response. So he tried to get past Meta’s head and contacted officials including the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center and the California Attorney General.
Other Redditors have posted success stories about contacting the Attorney General and including response letters. In those cases, the Attorney General told Facebook users, “We will write to the company you have a complaint against and seek a response to your concerns.” But even the Redditors that are successful report that this one Away usually takes a month for the accounts to be restored. One Redditor suggested that contacting the Attorney General only helped half the time.
A Meta spokesperson told Ars that the best way to let Meta know about hacked account issues is through facebook.com/hacked and instagram.com/hacked.
“We have invested significant resources to detect and prevent this type of fraud and to help those affected regain access to their accounts,” Meta’s spokesperson told Ars because they prevented problems in the first place, we know scammers are always trying to circumvent our security measures. We know that experiencing any type of business disruption can be frustrating, especially at such a critical time of the year. We are constantly improving our methods to combat these scams and have built teams dedicated to improving the support we can provide to people and businesses.”