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Beloved Montreal Instagram account disabled ‘in error’ leading to backlash, reinstatement

Many Montrealers were outraged this week when a beloved local social media account suddenly went dark.

Whether it’s someone riding a unicycle through a snowstorm, orange cones in compromising situations, or any slice of Montreal that makes you smile and shake your head all at once, F No MTL has posted it on their Instagram account.

The people running it have always stayed anonymous.

“It’s grown into just sort of a spot for absurdities, kind of either to celebrate them or commiserate over them,” the main page-runner told Global News on Thursday.

The page’s version of Montreal has gained more than 55,000 loyal followers over the years. Much of the content they share is submitted by followers anxious to see their videos and photos of absurd Montreal moments re-posted.

The content is not always funny, however.

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“There are a lot of tenants being renovicted, a lot of businesses being pushed out. It’s a great place for them to be able to tell their stories,” F No MTL told Global News.

“By having a big audience for stuff like construction cones and potholes, we can use that audience to support causes we believe in.”

Montreal film critic Justine Smith is one of F No MTL’s many fans.

“There’s kind of this undercurrent of activism,” Smith explained.  “It’s like, ‘How do we make our city better?’ How can you laugh at something but also be like, ‘Oh, this is an issue or this is a problem.’”

By displaying decaying Christmas trees seen in the middle of the summer, leaking pipes or overflowing trash cans, the page has made an important mark on many Montrealers.

A few days ago, it all disappeared. Without warning or explanation, the account was disabled by Instagram.

“There was definitely shock,” said the page’s director. “We looked over the past week of posts and really thought about which one of these violates their terms of service. We couldn’t really find one that did explicitly.”

The backlash from followers came quickly.

“I was kind of heartbroken,” said Smith. “People almost immediately kind of had this response of like, ‘We need this back.’”

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“We did get a lot of messages, people saying, ‘I don’t know what to look at today,’ or, ‘Your account is really the only one I follow or what’s keeping me on Instagram,’” said F No MTL.

In 2020, Smith wrote an article about F No MTL  and the importance of pages like it.

“We’re so online and we’re so much in these virtual spaces, that this is kind of connecting that virtual life back to the reality of living in a city surrounded by millions of other people,” she said.

On Wednesday, Global News reached out to Instagram parent company Facebook to ask why F No MTL had been disabled. Wednesday afternoon, the page had been reinstated.

“The page was removed in error and restored as soon as we were able to investigate. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused,” a Facebook spokesperson told Global News in an email Wednesday evening.

It wasn’t a very satisfying response to F No MTL, who remain annoyed that there was no explanation for the move.  Facebook did not respond to questions from Global News about why the page was disabled.

“I don’t know if it would have been put back if we hadn’t contested it, and I don’t know what just an individual or a small business would have done in this case because the process is not very clear,” said F No MTL.

They hope their experience serves as a lesson to others about how precarious social media accounts can be, and how few rights people have in the face of the big corporations that own the content they post.

The ordeal has accelerated F No MTL’s work toward publishing a book.

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