Identity Theft on Social Media Causes Real Psychological Suffering

Have you ever had your identity stolen on Instagram, Facebook, or Twitter? If so, did they publish photos and post on your behalf? This is an experience that millions of people have experienced. It's both painful and traumatic.
Identity Theft on Social Media Causes Real Psychological Suffering
Valeria Sabater

Written and verified by the psychologist Valeria Sabater.

Last update: 29 June, 2023

Anna has an Instagram account with many followers. Thanks to this social media platform, she can maintain her stationery business. However, one day, when she tries to access it, she discovers that she can’t. She’s been hacked. Moreover, the hackers are asking for money to restore it.

Something similar has happened to Seb. He’s a journalist and usually uses Twitter to publish his articles. He suddenly realizes that someone has taken over his username and password and is publishing topics about cryptocurrencies and pornography in his name.

These experiences happen every day to thousands of people around the world. Identity theft on social media is experienced in a distressing way. In fact, in many cases, it causes great psychological suffering.

Beyond the economic extortion that may lie behind it, or the deterioration of the victim’s public image, mental damage also occurs. On one hand, it’s understandable that the victim experiences anger and frustration at being the victim of such a robbery. After all, it’s not easy to understand how it’s done. In addition, they might blame themselves for not having sufficiently protected their personal data.

On the other hand, the victim also might experience an amalgamation of emotions when they realize how another individual has taken control of something that belongs to them. That’s because, today, social media is the face of our public personas, thus it’s linked to our personalities and identities.

Social media, for many people, is much more than a work tool. It’s a part of their lives and is linked to their sense of social projection.

woman suffering from identity theft on social media
Not having our Instagram or Facebook accounts and seeing other people controlling them causes great mental suffering.

Social media identity theft, why me?

Our data on social media is the oil of the 21st century. It’s bought, sold, and usurped. In addition, the online parallel universe craves to know everything about our behavior. All the cell phone apps we use spy on us and store information about what we do and what we like. We’re fully aware of this and even give our consent.

However, beyond the big technology companies are cybercriminals. They not only spy on us but can impersonate our identities by creating identical accounts or stealing our accounts by hacking us. You’ll hardly be surprised to hear that this marketing can be extremely lucrative and that there are real mafias out there oriented to hacking. But, why do they do it?

  • For economic purposes. Hackers can blackmail us when we want to retrieve our accounts, ask us for money, or start businesses by pretending to be us.
  • To steal personal information from us.
  • To spread malware (malicious computer programs).
  • With the purpose of posting on our behalf and driving traffic to their own accounts.
  • To damage our reputations: to undermine and destroy their victims’ public images.

The first thing you might ask yourself if your social media accounts are stolen is: why me? This feeling of helplessness can be really disturbing and even make it difficult for you to function normally.

The hijacking of social media accounts: a high-impact psychological kidnapping

Every year, the Identity Theft Resource Center (ITRC) publishes a report on identity theft worldwide. The report from 2022 revealed that four out of ten social media consumers had their accounts stolen.  85 percent of those were on the Instagram platform.

Identity theft on social media is particularly distressing because the developers don’t make it easy for the stolen account to be returned to the user. Indeed, the process is slow and laborious.

The Wollongong University of Dubai conducted a study that claims more research is required to understand the psychological impact of these occurrences.

Here are some of the experiences you might suffer if you’re a victim of this kind of crime:

Misunderstanding and frustration

Identity theft on social media doesn’t only affect influencers or those with large followings. On the contrary, everyone, regardless of their social status, is a target for cybercriminals. If it happens to you, the first thing you’ll experience are feelings of misunderstanding, anger, and frustration.

Feeling like they’ve stolen a part of you

Identity theft isn’t comparable to having an object stolen from you. It’s far more serious. In effect, it’s the loss of part of your identity.

Social media, as well as being a work tool, is your voice and public persona. Therefore, you might view identity theft as a form of physical aggression. If so, you may feel emotional pain and even psychosomatic discomfort.

The inability to return to normal

Losing your identity on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram might mean you’re unable to recover the normality of your life. Maybe you used it as a work tool. Or, you spent hours on there looking for reinforcements, and interacting and publishing posts. Whatever your case may be, your routines have been disrupted. Moreover, you might feel like there’s ‘something missing’ and that you’re misunderstood by your environment.

Anxiety and alterations in your habits

Anger, indignation, a sense of injustice, and the demon of anxiety. Due to what’s happened, your mind won’t stop turning. This persistent worry can translate into insomnia or eating disorders. Your character may even change. Furthermore, you lack patience and even motivation when it comes to carrying out your daily tasks and obligations.

Everyone experiences certain changes as a result of identity theft on social media. However, those who use it as a work tool, for interaction, or as a mechanism to achieve social reinforcement feel more affected.

person who suffers identity theft on social networks
Two-step authentication is one of the most effective tools when it comes to preventing the theft of social media accounts.

What can be done?

When it comes to preventing identity theft on social media, you must start to think of these channels as if they were your home. You need to find protection mechanisms so that no one can violate your personal space and what belongs to you and defines you. The following information could be useful.

  • Review the security and privacy settings on your accounts.
  • Use multi-factor authentication (MFA).
  • Create strong passwords.
  • Keep up to date and get to know about the phishing techniques used in identity theft.
  • Avoid giving your personal information on social media.
  • Don’t accept friend requests from people you don’t know.
  • Avoid clicking on links from unknown people.
  • Don’t respond to messages from people you don’t know requesting personal information.

Finally, remember that anyone can be a victim of this type of experience. The pain and anguish are real. So, if you need it, don’t hesitate to request specialized help.

All cited sources were thoroughly reviewed by our team to ensure their quality, reliability, currency, and validity. The bibliography of this article was considered reliable and of academic or scientific accuracy.

This text is provided for informational purposes only and does not replace consultation with a professional. If in doubt, consult your specialist.