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Losing Face 

How I didn't realize just how much of my life was on Facebook until it was taken away

click to enlarge Taking back your Facebook account from hackers is no easy task. - JESSIE HYNES ILLUSTRATION
  • Jessie Hynes illustration
  • Taking back your Facebook account from hackers is no easy task.

If you are a real person reading this, please send help. Do you remember in Kafka's The Trial, how Josef K. just accepts that he's part of this impossible process, showing up to court though he doesn't even know what he is accused of, unable to talk to anyone with any real authority, cycling through bizarre processes that make no sense until, in the end, the powerful agents get him right in the heart?

Me, too. This feels a lot like that.

It's been a month since my Facebook account was hacked. It feels like it's been several months. Years, even.

I haven't been able to use it for work, or to talk to my friends, or to see condolences from hundreds of people after my grandpa died on Easter.

When I was first hacked, through an old email address I hadn't checked in years that unlocked the door to my account, I grudgingly accepted that Facebook has no phone number, no customer support email, no real person to help you, as far as I can tell.

I tried looking through the site's "Help Center," but you've got to be logged in to ask a question about how to log back into your account. Like K., I accepted this contradiction and moved on.

Eventually, I found the right prompt and sent in a photo of my ID (twice), but even though that proved my account belongs to me, I've been stuck for weeks trying to unlock it, through a process that won't let me move on to the final step without verifying that the hacker's email is supposed to be on my account, which it's clearly not.

I've emailed just about every Facebook address I can find (including their press line when I knew I'd be writing about this) but no real person has replied. I thought "Elliott" from Community Operations might be real, but he always responds with the same exact form email. Maybe he didn't like my Kafka comparison.

"I would totally delete my account if I didn't need it for work," I used to brag.

I'm an idiot, and I was wrong, and I'm sorry.

Because for all the negativity that can go along with it — the addiction to notifications, the fear of missing out, based on the highly edited versions of friends' lives that I'd scroll through — Facebook is also where I shared photos of my little brother's wedding last year, how I stay in touch with friends from around the world. In some ways, it's like a journal.

Losing that account is like a digital house fire.

I always hear that the hardest belongings for people to lose are their letters, handwritten notes, photographs — the sentimental things you can't just buy with insurance checks. This is far less dramatic. I'm not in danger. My life will go on. But it's still devastating.

At first, I wanted not to care. Heck, I'd gone through way worse. What's a few days without a social media account?

But I found myself absentmindedly picking up my phone and unlocking it just to stare at my home screen. What was I doing? Oh yeah, usually I'd have notifications from Facebook, prompting me to open that little blue app.

When I was shopping and heard a little kid ask his parents, "Do most people experience the worst years of their life twice?" I whipped out my phone to start a conversation about that odd query... oh, right.

And what about those dispatches from the 10,000-mile solo road trip I took across the country? The awkward videos of my short-lived high school band performing in the school cafeteria? The private messages?

How ravenously I wanted to get back in, get that relief of knowing that my digital life was still there. Did anyone even notice that I was gone? Did this matter to anyone but me?

I'm old enough that I remember talking to friends on a landline phone, and I used dial-up internet through my senior year of high school (hello, 3-minute YouTube video; we will gladly sit here for 30 minutes and wait for you to load while Mom and Dad wonder if anyone is calling the house).

I'm also young enough that I've used computers since before I really knew how to read. My first middle school relationship was conducted almost exclusively through instant messenger. I've had my Facebook account for more than a third of my life.

I knew I put a lot out there online, but I'm just realizing how much of my identity my "digital self" seems to make up.

Ultimately, if I can't reclaim my account, I could rebuild it. Find the people I was connected to and start making new memories with them. But after this visceral grief I'm feeling over this account I didn't even think I needed, do I really want to go down that path again? ♦


DON'T BE ME

How to avoid the screw-up that led to my account getting hacked:

• Delete old accounts. Your old AOL or Hotmail account you haven't checked in years? Yeah, serious vulnerability. Delete it. Now!

• Update all your social media and online accounts to make sure you only have a current email and phone number connected to your account.

• Turn on 2-step verification. Yes, it may be a pain to enter your password and a code that's texted to your phone, but if a hacker gets your email password and doesn't have your phone, you'll be happy you did this.

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