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Someone made a fake Instagram account pretending to be me. Here’s what happened:
It’s a lot easier to get an Instagram account taken down than you might think.
Last Friday at 8 a.m., I awoke to hundreds of messages from friends, acquaintances and strangers telling me that someone made a fake Instagram, nearly identical to my personal account, offering access to a private Snapchat story where “I” would post explicit photos and nude content.
The account, named @reii.mullen (mine is @rei.mullen), was created around 2 a.m. and sported my full name, the university I attend and nine of my most recent pictures. Its story featured screenshots of my own selfies from my highlights, plastered with countdown timers and bright stickers, enticing viewers to “click the link in my bio.” A flyer advertised a 30-day free trial for “first time subscribers” and a $9.99 monthly subscription which would include “10 free personal pictures.”
The account owner took advantage of my public profile and successfully followed at least 228 of my male followers, gaining at least 25 followers for themselves. I don’t know if anyone clicked the link but I can only assume their phone immediately exploded in their hands due to viruses and malware.
So what happened?
I responded to all the warning messages, asking people to report the account. I filed a direct complaint with Instagram, saying that I was being impersonated. This process required me to send a photo of myself holding my driver’s license to prove that I was me. I posted stories on both my Instagram and Snapchat accounts alerting my friends and followers that I did not own the account, not to click the link and to report the account.
Altogether, we got the fake account taken down in about an hour, but my impersonator still had seven hours to troll my followers into sending them money and promising them access to my body.
And this isn’t an uncommon practice.
I know several girls who have had their identities stolen by strangers on the internet. I know girls who have had their Snapchat accounts hacked, only promising safe return in exchange for money or explicit photos. I know girls who still have not recovered their social media accounts, months or even years later, because of poor customer service from social media corporations and inability to pay ransoms.
Although it was fairly easy for my followers to get the account disabled, the idea that someone had tried to essentially sell my body still lurks in the back of my mind. With the rise of OnlyFans, it has never been easier for empowered men and women to use their bodies for monetary gain, and to do it on their own terms. But to those who didn’t know the account was fake, these were my terms.
It became painfully clear that some of my followers — friends, even — were under the impression that I owned the fake account and were willing to pay for the goods they presumed I was selling. And that’s an off putting thought; knowing that some of my friends had wondered what I looked like beneath my clothes.
I won’t be starting a premium Snapchat story or OnlyFans account. But at least I know there’s a market, I guess.
Reilly Mullen is the managing editor of The Spectrum and can be reached at email@example.com or on Twitter @ReillyMMullen.