8 minute read

Providing this first-person account is Michelle Boyd Waters, M.Ed., a long time Oklahoma City metro area resident, owner of the educational publishing company reThink ELA, educator with 10 years experience teaching in Oklahoma public schools, and doctoral student in the English Education program at the University of Oklahoma. And, yes, that feature photo is of Michelle’s house burning in March 2018.

I wake up every morning and check Facebook. If I have birthday reminders for friends, family, or former students, I send them a greeting to add another voice of encouragement to their special day. I read through posts and like or share those that feature uplifting messages for my teacher colleagues who are still in the classroom or friends who might just need a pick-me-up. 

Facebook Messenger has been my family’s app-of-choice for staying in touch on a daily basis and planning events. We have individual and group chats going back years. I connect with educators and business owners to interview for my podcasts. Sometimes I’ll see someone pop up on my Messenger list who I haven’t talked to in awhile and I’ll message them just to see how they’re doing.

I check out my friends’ stories to see what’s going on in their lives and share a few tidbits of mine — pictures of the flowers in my garden or a really good meal I ate at a local restaurant.

I share memes and articles around our education system and what needs to happen so that it serves all of its students. 

Michelle Waters Boyd
Michelle Boyd Waters

I create content on my websites and share it to my pages and groups to help English Language Arts teachers engage their students and teacher entrepreneurs start and grow their businesses. I networked with thousands of teachers and business owners around the world, many I’ve known for two decades.

I was comforted knowing that I had access to the pictures my sister uploaded to her account before she died.

When I needed to be reminded that my work matters, I could go back to the posts I saved where former students, going back almost a decade, shared how I had encouraged them.

These are the things I lost when someone hacked my account, posted something I never saw, and then Facebook disabled my account for violating community standards. And since my Instagram account was tied to my Facebook for business purposes, that account was deleted, too.

I am a student, educator, and online entrepreneur with family ties in Oklahoma going back to the days of covered wagons. I spend my days running a small business helping people start their own companies and hanging out with my two grown children. I know that precautions must be taken, strong passwords used, two-factor authentication, etc. to protect my digital assets. Yet Facebook hackers were still able to take over my account in just a few moments on April 9 and it’s still unclear if I’ll get my account back. 

If it can happen to me, it can happen to you. 

We hear stories of people being hacked all the time, but it’s often hard to understand the extent of damage this is causing if we aren’t close to that person or if we think it was someone who perhaps didn’t know how to stay secure online. 

I am no stranger to the internet though. I currently own an online educational publishing company that I started in 2013 and am a graduate student in the doctoral program in the University of Oklahoma’s Jeannine Rainbolt College of Education. I have taught English Language Arts for 10 years in rural and suburban Oklahoma schools and am a member of the #oklaed Twitter community.

Before I became a teacher, I ran a web hosting company in Oklahoma for almost 10 years after leaving a career as a newspaper reporter to stay at home with my children. I graduated with a journalism degree from Oklahoma Baptist University and with my master’s in English education from OU. My family has lived in this state since the turn of the 20th century, with my grandparents running a mom and pop grocery story in southwestern Oklahoma for decades. My uncle is currently a sheriff in Oklahoma who has served as both a police chief and U.S. Marshal.

I share this story to show you that I’m an Oklahoman with deep ties to my community. If this can happen to me, it can happen to any of us.

This is a nightmare of losing my memories, photos, network, saved resources, business accounts, and friends in my almost 10-year-old Facebook account. My phone was still showing notifications from groups I have joined and birthdays of friends I cannot greet, but I deleted that account to stop them.

This is worse than when my house burned down.

I lost every physical thing I owned then. But that was just stuff. Facebook has taken away my connections to people and my support system that I have built for the past 13 years.

I have reached out to Facebook through Twitter and have emailed two of their support email accounts to no avail. I tried to follow the advice I found in a Business Insider article, but since my account is suspended, I can’t access anything. A friend visited the Facebook Help Center and sent me a link to report my account hacked. But I can’t access that page because my account is suspended.

This online nightmare started on April 9. I had returned home from washing my car with my children, and when I logged into Facebook, I was taken to a screen saying that someone had tried to login to my account from Los Angeles. I  immediately clicked the button stating that it was NOT me. As I reset my password, my screen suddenly switched to one saying that I had violated Facebook’s community standards and that I could request a review of their decision. I did this, and as part of the process, uploaded a photo of my driver’s license. 

Now, when I login to Facebook, I am taken to a screen that says it usually takes Facebook just over a day to review my information. When I open my messenger app, it tells me that images or videos of child sexual abuse (the hackers posted something, apparently) and that I can’t post or comment for 72 hours and that I may be reported under the law. Those 72 hours will be up on April 12. After that, I will have 30 days from the 9th for this situation to be resolved or else my Facebook account (and presumably the Instagram account I had tied to it, though it already seems to be gone) will be deleted.

As an good digital citizen would do, I opened my browser and started searching for news stories about Facebook hacking with hopes that I’d find an easy resolution: That I could fill out a form, a human at Facebook would see that I had not posted anything that violates their community standards, that I had reported my account compromised almost immediately, and that the Facebook human would push the button restoring control of my account. 

Instead, I discovered that this is a common and recent nightmare around the world. I read an NPR story from August 2, 2021 about hackers getting Facebook accounts shut down — and Facebook doing nothing about it. I discovered an article in Forbes from someone who had a little more recovery success than I have had so far, but I’m not sure his solution will work for me. A mom in Australia was horrified to discover what hackers posted on her account before she was locked out. A Canadian lawmaker had his account hacked and disabled under similar circumstances.

I’ve talked to friends, at least one who recently lost his account for no apparent reason. He just logged in one day and discovered his account was disabled.

A hashtag on Twitter, #FacebookDisabledMe, is full of stories from people who have mysteriously been suspended on Facebook with no recourse. A reporter I found there, who wrote the article in Forbes that I linked above, suggested that I continue replying to the email that Facebook sent me when I submitted my ID. I did, and set a reminder to send another reply in two days.

Yet, I am still waiting for Facebook to review my account and I am hoping to find a way to contact a human being at Facebook to get my account back. I am also hoping that if these stories are told far and wide, Facebook will develop a better system for defeating the hackers instead of teachers, moms, and entrepreneurs. 

In the meantime, I am thankful that I do not run my businesses entirely on Facebook, Instagram, or any other social media or ecommerce platform that I can’t control and/or download easily. I’ve tweeted about my situation to find a network of people who can help me navigate this situation, written a blog post to help other people ensure they don’t lose their entire businesses to Facebook hacking, and searched online for information from someone other than the random people on Twitter who are offering to fix my account (or who know someone who will). 

I’ve setup another Facebook account since I am certain at this point that I no longer have my original account. I added a handful of friends and family members. I liked a few posts. I shared a picture of my new rosebush. I added admin to my business pages and groups. I watched reels from my favorite nonprofit organizations. I joined a couple of my old groups. And now, this account has been restricted, preventing me from posting or using messenger. 

I am just about done with Facebook.

Last Updated April 14, 2022, 8:39 AM by Brett Dickerson – Editor