In late March, porn performer and sex worker activist Bella Bathory discovered that her Instagram account had vanished. A person going by the name “Omid” at-mentioned her on Twitter: “your IG account was deleted due to your porn activities,” it read, with the hashtags “#say_no_to_porn” and “#no_porn.”

Bathory tried logging into her account, which, after six years of work had gathered nearly 17,000 followers. The account didn’t exist; it was gone.

Bathory was familiar with Omid’s name, if only because it has become infamous among porn performers. Over the last several months he has sent ripples of anxiety throughout the adult industry, having claimed responsibility for shutting down hundreds of Instagram accounts by reporting performers for violating the company’s Community Guidelines. As Jezebel previously wrote, attention from Omid, who says he is driven by a moralistic anti-porn agenda, has become an alarm bell, a warning that an Instagram account is about to, or has already, vanished—taking with it an essential audience-building tool that helps make performers’ livelihoods possible.

In hopes of reinstating her account, Bathory contacted Instagram’s Help Center. Three weeks later, having watched her income plummet as a result of the shutdown, Bathory still hadn’t heard anything. Then a fellow performer told her about a small-scale social media management company that purported to have the ability to restore shuttered Instagram accounts. By that point, Bathory had lost hope of ever getting her account back—and was freshly outraged at the thought of a company profiting off sex workers’ vulnerability to takedowns. In the interest of exposing potential corruption, she agreed to pay the agency the $450 they quoted her, and asked them to bring her account back from the dead.

Within hours of the agency telling her that her account was about to be restored, it was. Then, when Bathory declined to follow through with payment, the agency threatened to take her account back down. Within a couple days, the account had once again disappeared.

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It’s impossible to know for sure what happened here: who or what was behind the restoration and subsequent deletion of her account, and whether it was an uncanny coincidence or well-orchestrated scheme. When Jezebel presented Instagram with details about Bathory’s experience, a spokesperson said that there is no evidence that a single entity was behind the restoration or deletion of her account. The agency that Bathory contacted, which spoke with Jezebel on the condition of anonymity, provided purported evidence via screenshot of their participation in the restoration of Bathory’s account, as well as one additional account.

If the agency’s allegations are true, it shows how a third party can profit handsomely from Instagram’s opaque and convoluted moderation policies. And if the agency’s allegations aren’t true, well, it shows how a shadow economy can thrive on desperation. Either way, it’s sex workers who suffer.


Porn performers have long been harassed on the web, but recently this targeting has spiraled into an industry crisis. In May, the Adult Performers Actors Guild—the adult industry’s union—sent a letter to Facebook, Instagram’s parent company, alleging that nearly 200 performers have had their accounts “terminated without explanation,” over the course of several months. The accounts didn’t bear any particularly scandalous content: In many instances, the letter alleges, there “was no nudity shown” on the shuttered accounts and “it appears that [individuals’ accounts] were terminated merely because of their status as an adult performer.”

These takedowns are especially destructive within the context of a rapidly changing adult industry. As tube sites, filled with troves of pirated content, have ravaged the business, many adult performers rely heavily on their Instagram accounts to attract new fans to paid social media services, like Only Fans. The loss of a highly followed Instagram account can result in lost income of hundreds, even thousands, of dollars a month. But where there is desperation, the unscrupulous see opportunity.

At this year’s Adult Entertainment Expo in Las Vegas, Instagram shutdowns were a frequent topic of conversation, and whispers circulated about agencies and individuals offering to restore accounts for fees as high as $2,500. At the time, performer Adriana Chechik told Jezebel that after her account was shut down, multiple men claiming to “know someone who knows someone who works at Instagram” reached out to her on Twitter. I’ve heard from a handful of performers and industry insiders with similar experiences. (Previously, Instagram told me that its users should be wary of such claims, as the company itself will never ask for money to restore accounts.)

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On a few occasions, I’ve spoken with a performer who says she knows someone who has allegedly successfully paid for account restoration, but that “someone” has never been willing to speak with a reporter.

The adult industry takedown problem is such that earlier this year an Instagram employee independently decided to start helping out, according to a source who spoke with Jezebel on condition of anonymity. In January, the employee, who has since voluntarily left Instagram, began internally flagging dozens of porn performers’ accounts for a secondary review, after which many were reinstated, according to the source. (Instagram confirmed that it conducted an investigation regarding Omid, partly in response to this employee’s concerns, but alleged that only a small number of accounts were restored after having been removed in error.)

The employee also allegedly raised concerns about how Instagram’s moderation policies could routinely lead to wrongful takedowns of adult performers’ accounts. (Instagram did not comment on this allegation.) That warning, it seems, was not seriously heeded.


In the weeks after the shutdown, Bathory estimates that her income dropped by roughly 40 percent. Her account had routinely drawn fans who would then seek her out on for-pay platforms, but suddenly traffic declined. Sponsorship of her monthly Los Angeles burlesque show evaporated, because her newly-created backup account didn’t have the five-figure following to successfully secure advertisers. “It felt like it was kind of hopeless,” she told me.

Scores of friends and fans had tried to report the problem with her account to Instagram’s Help Center. Then she was offered a backup solution. A fellow performer, who declined to speak with Jezebel, told Bathory that she had successfully paid a company to restore her shuttered Instagram account. “Hey babe I ended up paying someone from insta to get mine back,” she wrote in a message to Bathory, followed by a side-eye emoji. “If you speak to these people, they can help.”

Bathory reached out to Jezebel, having seen our previous reporting on Omid and asked for Jezebel’s help in exposing this alleged exploitation of Instagram’s moderation system. Meanwhile, Bathory contacted the social media management company, which publicizes its ability to oversee the monetized Snapchat accounts of influencers from all industries, from fitness to porn. Using her backup account, Bathory wrote, “Hello! I was told you’re able to help with account reinstatement after deletion!” In response, the company replied, “Hey there! Yes we can.”

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They quoted her $450 to get her account reinstated. The company provided few details as to how the account would be restored, citing only “our tech guy.”

As Jezebel internally explored the possibility of funding Bathory’s pursuit in the interest of reporting this story, she told the company that she was going to pay the $450. In response, the social media management company wrote, “[O]ur agent has begun opening your account however he’s requesting payment before he goes any further for obvious reasons.” The company sent her details for making payment and asked that she use Transferwise, a payment app that allows for currency exchange; Bathory delayed their request as Jezebel tried to pave the way for payment. “Sorry to bother you but we can’t go any further until payment is made, it takes a lot of work and he will cancel the appeal if he isn’t paid,” the company wrote on April 30.

The next day, the company told Bathory, “Just an update, you should have your account back within 3 days but you won’t be able to login until payment is made.” The following morning—a week and a half after first contacting the social media management company, and a month after first reaching out to Instagram’s Help Center—she discovered that her account was back. She also received an email from Instagram saying that her account was “disabled by mistake” and had now been restored. But when she tried to log in, she found that the password and email associated with the account had been changed.

The next day, on May 3, the company messaged her, “Our agent said he’ll disable again in 12 hrs if he hasn’t been paid. He’s getting annoyed sorry.” They followed up: “He’s disabling it. Do not contact us again.” On May 6, her account was taken down again.


Jezebel presented Instagram with a detailed timeline of events regarding Bathory’s account. In response, the company conducted a review and told Jezebel that Bathory’s account was initially, and mistakenly, removed for sexual solicitation. It was later restored in response to an appeal made through the Help Center, according to Instagram. Then it was once more mistakenly removed for sexual solicitation. Both takedowns happened in response to reports made through publicly available channels, made by different people, says Instagram—the implication being that the restoration and subsequent takedown were an uncanny coincidence.

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Instagram’s response left several questions, most saliently: Is there any plausible explanation for how a third party might appear to so effectively influence the status of an account? The company did not directly answer this question, but said that there is no evidence that an agency was behind the restoration. Following Jezebel’s inquiry, Instagram deleted the social media management company’s account for violating terms of service.

When Jezebel reached out to the social media management company in question, a representative—let’s call him “George,” which is not his real name—agreed to speak only on the condition of anonymity.

Via Facebook Messenger, George claimed that in February of this year a client with 2 million followers lost her Instagram account and asked for help getting it restored. A former client put him in touch with a source who she claimed had restored some of her friends’ Instagram accounts. George says he reached out to this mysterious source via WhatsApp and was told that restoration was possible for a fee of $3,000. (He provided Jezebel with screenshots of this alleged exchange.) The client declined, but George soon returned to the source with another request.

On two different occasions this year, this source was able to restore accounts for the social media management company, according to George. First, there was a prospective client whose Instagram account was taken down with 236,000 followers. Given the lower follower count, the source quoted a lesser sum of $750. (George speculated that his source’s pricing is based on follower count because “people with higher followers will pay more to have their accounts reactivated.”) Five weeks after paying the source, said George, the account was back.

He provided Jezebel with screenshots of a WhatsApp conversation with the source that appear to support his claim. George said his source initially told him that restorations can take anywhere from two days to three weeks, and that he apologized for the unusual delay. He claimed details about the alleged restoration process were never exchanged, and that the source only referred to his “agents” who were able to “unlock accounts.”

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Then, George heard from Bathory. He provided alleged screenshots of conversations with his source, which appear to match up with Bathory’s experience, as well as with the restoration of her account. On April 26, the source wrote of Bathory’s alleged account retrieval, “Bro I have Started Process.” Later, the source sent a screenshot of the restored account to George.

The source, however, is unable to delete accounts, according to George. In other words, the company was bluffing when it told Bathory that her account would be taken down for lack of payment. He speculated that the account was instead “reported for breaching community guidelines,” although he claimed that neither he nor his source reported her account. George alleged that he tried to halt the restoration when Bathory didn’t pay, but that his source said that “once he’s started he cannot put it on hold.”

Soon after Bathory’s account was restored, George began demanding payment from her. “Are you going to pay [company name] for getting your account back? Or just cheating them?,” he wrote in an Instagram comment. Via a DM, he ordered, “Pay [company name].” He claimed that the company paid a partial sum to its source and was now out nearly $350. A screenshot of George’s WhatsApp conversation suggests that the source received the payment in Indian rupees.

George claimed that the company only charged a small additional amount to cover service fees for international payments. Why provide the service without making a profit, though? George said it began as a way to “help build rapport” and “recognition” for prospective clients. But he also described it as a way to “fight back” against Instagram’s “unfair witch hunt” directed at “females who work in the adult industry.” In other words, George claimed that he sees the social media management company as coming to the rescue of performers like Bathory. At one point in our Messenger exchange he even asked, seemingly earnestly, “Do you believe that we are doing the wrong thing by helping people get their accounts back?”

Of course, Bathory saw things differently. To her, the company’s offer of paid account restoration felt more like the extortion of a marginalized community—one that is currently being targeted with harassment and abuse by Omid. Even if it’s true that the social media management company isn’t pocketing any money from this exchange, its source and/or his “agents” are clearly profiting. Regardless of whether the social media management company is able to restore accounts or if it’s one massive scam, Bathory’s experience underscores how Instagram’s moderation policies can leave sex workers—and anyone targeted by a savvy manipulator—vulnerable.


“My account getting taken down was horrifying,” said Bathory. “Everything I have posted has remained within Instagram’s guidelines. I am a sex worker, that is a huge part of who I am, but that is not what I use my Instagram for.” Before her account was shuttered, she posted a topless photo with her nipples censored alongside a caption asking for movie recommendations. Before that, it was a photo of her tattoo reading, “Filthy Femme,” alongside a caption about her sex work activism.

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Instagram vaguely bars nudity, including “some photos of female nipples” and “close-ups of fully-nude buttocks,” with exemptions for “photos of paintings and sculptures.” But it is Instagram’s policies around “solicitation” that leave even more room for subjective interpretation.

As a spokesperson previously told Jezebel, “We allow sex-positive content and discussion on Instagram, but given the wide-ranging ages and cultures of the people who use our service, we do not allow content that facilitates, encourages or coordinates sexual encounters between adults.” This broad standard could apply even without the presence of nudity, particularly when it comes to adult performers, who could be construed as sharing content that “facilitates, encourages or coordinates sexual encounters between adults.”

Previously, when Jezebel covered the takedowns for which Omid had taken credit, Instagram said that most of the accounts were “correctly removed for violating our sexual solicitation policies” and that only “a small number were removed in error.” One might assume, then, that such wrongful “solicitation” takedowns are rare—but, clearly, they weren’t in Bathory’s case. She was, according to Instagram, incorrectly penalized for “solicitation” twice within the span of a month. Instagram is now conducting an internal review to understand why the account was repeatedly and mistakenly taken down for solicitation.

The former Instagram employee who allegedly left behind documentation alerting Instagram to the problem posed by Omid might have some ideas. Back in January, the soon-to-be-former employee allegedly highlighted concerns about the potential for misunderstandings around the company’s policy around “solicitation,” particularly in instances where performers provide links and email addresses to book them for perfectly legal adult film productions.

Hair-trigger sensitivity around moderating potential solicitation has become common in the wake of FOSTA/SESTA, a piece of legislation signed into law last year that introduced criminal penalties for websites that “promote or facilitate the prostitution of another person.” Following the introduction of FOSTA/SESTA, Craigslist shuttered its personal ads, Reddit closed several adult-oriented subreddits, and the adult dating site Cityvibe shut down. As a result, activists have argued that FOSTA/SESTA has put sex workers at greater risk by reducing their avenues for online advertising and client screening, and pushing many to street-based work.

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Notably, it was post-FOSTA/SESTA that Facebook introduced language in its terms of service banning sexual solicitation (although a spokesperson has denied that it was provoked by the legislation, which the company supported).

These kinds of moderation policies can have unintended real-world ripple effects. When her account was suspended, Bathory found that she was also blocked from managing the Instagram account for the Sex Workers Outreach Project Los Angeles, an organization she co-directs and which is dedicated to defending sex workers’ rights. In other words, the “mistaken” shutdown of Bathory’s account over “solicitation” stymied her activism around sex workers’ rights (just as, one might argue, her own rights as a sex worker were being challenged).

Bathory says she’s seen activist collectives like All Sex Workers Go to Heaven  get their Instagram accounts shut down permanently. “They did not have the money nor the resources to get their accounts back,” she said of these groups, which often have to start over with brand-new accounts. “It’s not just sex workers who are showing slutty things on the internet. These are people that are trying to do good and trying to fix some of the harm that FOSTA/SESTA has caused.”

The problem is such that Bathory has decided to start working with a group of fellow sex workers on making an adult-friendly Instagram-like platform. “We have a trans woman of color who is a UX designer, we’ve got a user acquisitions specialist who’s a stripper, we’ve got a coder who’s a dominatrix,” she said. Still, Bathory hopes that Instagram will address the problem—and start listening to sex workers.