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Instagram account crackdown spreads panic, fear of hacking

Distressed Instagram users locked out of their accounts turn to Yahoo Answers for help. Confusion ensues.

A number of Instagram's 90 million active users are in a confused panic after being locked out of their accounts over the weekend, and several seem to believe they've been hacked.

On Saturday, the same day the Facebook-owned photo-sharing app enacted its revised terms or service, Yahoo Answers was inundated with threads from alarmed Instagram users who claimed to have lost access to their accounts for no apparent reason.

The longest question-and-answer thread, started by Yahoo user "moi," opened with an "Am I hacked?" query that soon had fellow forum participants worried that their security was compromised. Moi, like most of the other 57 people in the thread, was shown the following message, pictured below, when attempting to access the application this weekend:

Your account has been secured and requires account validation. Please login to from your desktop computer to validate your identify.
The desktop validation process then requires the user to upload a photograph of a government-issued photo ID by February 1 -- a puzzling requirement for many thread participants, who worried that a hacker was attempting to gain access to their personal information. Which is not the case.

"Instagram occasionally removes accounts due to violation of terms and, depending on the violation, may ask people to upload IDs for verification purposes," a Facebook spokesperson told CNET.

"The same thing just happened to me and I gave them my driver's license like a moron but I covered up the number. It was from," Yahoo member Lynn wrote. "This has got to be hacked. Where did you email them? I'm trying to navigate their help system."

Several others are less worried about being hacked and more generally baffled by losing access to their accounts. One person reached out to me Saturday morning after his 12-year-old son was locked out of his account. The son, the contact said, was in tears over losing access to Instagram. The father's experience echoes those of forum participants, many of whom noted that their children were being asked to upload photo IDs to verify their birthdates.

It's unclear whether the uptick in secured accounts represents an active effort on Facebook's part to crack down on underage users. As a public company, Facebook has the burden of ensuring that it maintains a verifiable 13-and-up user base. Instagram, like Facebook, requires that its users are at least 13, though that hasn't stopped tweens and teens from turning to the photo-sharing property as a mostly parents-free place to connect with their middle school- and high school-aged peers.

"Violation emails are unrelated to the terms and privacy policies going into effect," said the rep, who declined to share which violations require verification via photo ID or to comment on whether the service is conducting a tween crackdown.

While misinformation abounds, the common theme among all the OMG-my-Instagram-is-gone threads is that both Instagram and Facebook have been completely unresponsive to requests for assistance -- and that the best remedy is to start over with a new account.