September 27, 2019

How a Facebook Hacker Started My Email List

 

It happened sometime between creating that wedding photography ad on my business page and returning from my half-hour lunch. I usually eat lunch at home if I can, but I was having a particularly fog-brained day and opted to go out to pick something up instead. I hoped it would shake my still-sleeping brain cells awake.

Little did I know that given another hour, most if not all my brain cells would be firing — and not in the way that I had imagined when I stepped out of my office for a snack.

Those of you who follow my personal Facebook account may be aware that a little over a week ago, a hacker broke into my personal email, logged into my Facebook account, and began sharing vulgarities (which have remained undisclosed to me) that caused my account to be permanently disabled. I lost access not only to my personal Facebook AND Instagram page (they were linked) but my photography business page as well.

When I returned from lunch, I found myself logged out of Facebook. Weird, I thought. Maybe it was time to re-verify my device. I typed in my password. A page appeared alerting me that my account had been disabled and that, if I felt Facebook had made a mistake, I should contact them through the Help Center.

Obviously Facebook had made a mistake. I followed the protocol.

There was no text box for me to explain the entirety of my situation — that there was a suspicious password change request and a mysteriously opened email in my inbox at 11am that morning. In fact, because my account was disabled without warning, there was no way for me to even make a case to prove that I was not in control of my account when it was deleted.

I felt on-trial without an attorney for a crime I didn’t commit. I had no voice.

I even had to submit my driver’s license to Facebook, supposedly in order to prove my identity. (I am still not sure what this was for since Facebook made little effort to resurrect my account anyway. It is also worth noting there was some suspicious fine-print about my license being kept on file for up to a year during which time it would be used to help Facebook “detect fake IDs”. I am also not sure under what circumstances Facebook would be concerned about or requesting IDs, fake or valid. It was cool of the fine print to offer a chance to opt-out of this bizarre feature — but in order for Facebook to process the request, you had to have access to the account in question.) I was left feeling duped and kind of icky about the whole thing, but I didn’t really have another choice.

I followed the protocol. There was no text box for me to explain the situation…I had no voice.

Once I submitted the request, Facebook told me I would get an email “shortly”. After three business days, I had not received an email. I tried calling Facebook, but the customer service number is difficult to find, and even after I found the “correct” number, dialing the number and following the prompts produced this laughably unhelpful rigamarole:

Yeah, you heard that correctly — the phone hung up on me.

If you think that is the silliest thing you have ever heard, it is. Go ahead, give them a call yourself. It’s a blast.

In the interim, I had no access to my business page, which was miraculously in a state of limbo only because my associate shooter was coincidentally added as an admin. I lost access to my personal Instagram account, which was linked to my personal Facebook. I was effectually shut down from reaching those that followed my page on Facebook — and my personal followers on both Instagram and Facebook.

So after three business days of waiting for a response from Facebook, I was forced to submit my personal information (including my driver’s license) through their online Help Center form a second time. This time, I did receive the email shortly after. It was good to know this feature was operational. Perhaps the proverbial mouse on the wheel was taking a nap when the computer he was powering was first asked to send the email to my inbox.

The email I received came just a few minutes after I sent the request for them to review my account. It looked like this:

 

Note: I am not sure who or what is thanking me here. For my benefit, I like to imagine it is a young John Stamos.

 

For those of us who capture the majority of our business on social media, it is the stuff of nightmares.

Unfortunately, entrepreneurs have heard these cautionary tales more often than they would like. Stories about how quickly your online empire, sometimes the product of years worth of sharing and interacting, can crumble. For those of us who capture the majority of our business on social media, it is the stuff of nightmares. A week or so after I nearly lost my account, someone shared this story in one of my Facebook groups. This isn’t a cautionary tale anymore; this is happening to real people who own real businesses.

Of course, this could NEVER happen to you. You have all the two-step verifications in place. You use those bright, shiny suggested passwords. And besides, even if this happened to you, Facebook would take care of everything. They would understand.

Right?

The reality is there is no protection for your social media pages. Social sites like Facebook and Instagram would have us believe that the things we post and our pages as a whole are our property. This is simply not true. And while we could go back and forth about the quality of Facebook’s customer service, the harsh truth of it is that we are not Facebook’s customers at all. Social media has morphed into little more than a living, breathing ad machine. And it’s all happened quietly and comfortably enough, right under our noses. Companies who purchase targeted advertising through Facebook are the real clients, and those companies utilize Facebook’s data mining and algorithms to target consumers. For companies, this data is gold. Our Facebook accounts are not paid for with money but heaps of personal data. Heard of all the scandals about data mining and data sharing in the media lately? That’s because Facebook shares your data (where you click, things you like, where you live, your age, your occupation, etc.) with companies in exchange for their advertising dollars. This resulted in $55.8 billion annual revenue for Facebook in 2018.

While I’ve done my fair share of Facebook advertising, I’m contributing very little to this billion dollar monstrosity. It stands to reason that hacked accounts of small business owners like me are small potatoes, that there is no outlet for our frustrations, that Facebook simply doesn’t (and won’t in the foreseeable future) have a reason to care.

Social sites like Facebook and Instagram would have us believe the things we post on our pages are our property. This is simply not true.

If it seems unfair it kind of is. For this reason, more and more entrepreneurs are making moves towards traditional forms of staying in touch, like email lists and newsletters. If those words scare you as a consumer, you aren’t alone. Such terminology has been associated with spam, sales-pitchy emails, and too-good-to-be-true “freebies” you know are going to end in a pitch.

But times are changing. There are entire Facebook groups and courses dedicated to “outsmarting” Instagram algorithms and Facebook advertising. The distrust between social media and its users (particularly small business owners) has been tumultuous for a while. You should see us every time Instagram changes what constitutes “engagement” or what pushes a post directly to someone’s feed. (Seriously go google Instagram algorithm. There are monthly updates.) At times it can feel futile, even cruel. It sounds dramatic but we are quite literally mere players trying to get everyone’s attention in a game where the rules constantly change without warning. Keeping up with it all is exhausting (see: above Google search). And with every disabled account, every tweak to the way our posts get prioritized against all the other noise, we are reminded these outlets that drive much of our business are not in our control. Nothing we share belongs only to us.

Enter: the modern email list.

Email lists are not the cringe-worthy inbox invaders that they may have been once. When Instagram or Facebook changes their algorithm (again) and businesses lose the eyes of thousands of potential customers, we have to reinvent our process to accommodate the changes. Everyone starts wondering what would happen if social media ceased to exist — what would we do then?

So I’m re-introducing my email list. And after this past month, it’s more important than ever that you’re on it.

We own our email list. It is safe and it is ours. There is no skeevy middle man selling your data for advertising. No complex algorithm to determine whether what I’m saying is relevant or not. There is just me, a business owner, and you, someone who cares about my business. If I make a Facebook post, you might never even see it, based on what Facebook decides is important to you. When I send a newsletter, I know it will reach your inbox, and I know you will care to open it because you gave me your email in exchange — not your money or your personal data.

Most of all, an email list allows me to stay in touch with my clients, even if my social media pages were to get deleted — doesn’t seem so far-fetched now, does it?

My email list is only bi-monthly has all the same information from my Facebook but it’s more relaxed and personal. You get a pep talk from me, updates on all my happenings, photos of my cat, and lots of freebies. The focus of my newsletter is not to sell to you, but to serve you.

I want to hear from you, want to know what you are up to, and I want to know how I can help.

If you follow my business and would like to keep in touch with me without social media, you can sign up for my newsletter below.

 

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  1. Do you use fotomerchant.com for your marketing and email? They are notorious for security breaches like this!

    • Tessa Cokkinias says:

      I don’t use that company, no. But I’ve definitely stopped using my Facebook account to sign up for other websites. You just never know!

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