Clinical counselor Amber Rules hadn’t changed a bit when she was suddenly banned from her organization’s Instagram account.

“I don’t know what went wrong, I didn’t know why they blocked me or what the solution was,” he said.

Before her unexpected start from the social media app, Ms. Rules had shared mental health resources and volunteer opportunities at her social enterprise and low-cost counseling service, Rough Patch.

“It took us a week or so to realize what this meant to us,” he told AAP.

“I guess I didn’t understand how long it would take.”

Ms. Rules and her colleagues scoured online forums, Facebook groups, and contact lists to find someone who could help.

Two months of searching finally turned up a contact: an email address for a friend of a Rough Patch volunteer.

“One day when I went to log in, it was fixed.” said Mrs. Rules.

“I guess it was just because we had a connection. I’m not the wiser, I don’t know how I can stop it from happening again.”

Instagram’s parent company Meta this week launched a subscription service in Australia and New Zealand called Meta Verified that promises better access to customer service, among other benefits.

Users pay a monthly fee of $19.99 and submit an ID to access the service, receiving a blue check mark in return.

Meta says users will have access to “a real person” for account concerns and “proactive account monitoring” to address fake accounts.

However, a Meta spokesperson confirmed that the service was for personal accounts only.

“Businesses are not eligible for Meta Verified at this time, but we are excited to explore how it could be a valuable subscription product for businesses in the future,” he said.

“Subscription-based models have been successful across the industry and we believe we can bring real value with the offering we’ve created.”

But social media strategist Meg Coffey described Meta’s move toward a pay-for-service model as simply a money grab.

“We shouldn’t have to pay for security; security should be something that apps offer at the very least.”

The enhanced security and support features offered exclusively through Meta Verified are not available for business accounts, presenting a significant barrier for people who want to market their profiles.

“You’re limited by the nature of the platform,” Coffey said.

“If you want to monetize something, you can’t be a personal account.

“If paying twenty bucks means that when I go offline I get instant help, that’s great. But it needs to extend to businesses, not just individuals.”

Belinda Barnet, senior lecturer in digital media at Swinburne University, said the “force-selling” of security features on social media was a worrying sign.

“They are starting to sell the door locks… the verification in particular poses a security risk,” he said.

“If you can afford it, great. But there will be a whole group of people who won’t be able to do it. It’s really not fair, it’s extortion by the company.”

In the Rough Patch, where reaching people online is essential, the overwhelming need for support outweighs the issue of equity.

“It’s grossly unfair for an organization as large as Instagram to make money off millions of small businesses and expect us to pay for technical support, it’s a very cynical business model,” Ms Rules said.

“But when push comes to shove, would you pay $20 to fix that problem? I absolutely would.”


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