The first three months of the pandemic was the lowest point in Iffah Meirizka’s life. Her father was one of the millions in Indonesia who lost their job, turning their world upside down. He was the breadwinner of their family, so when he struggled to find a new job, Iffah had to take matters into her own hands. As a college student studying pharmacy, Iffah turned her knowledge into a source of income—she started making body scrubs and reselling face masks and soaps. At 20 years old, she was working hard just to make ends meet, but this still wasn’t enough to help her family recover from dire financial straits.
Several months later, in August 2020, she stumbled upon an online course about erasing digital footprints. This intrigued her, so she decided to spend her free time learning this new skill. At the time, many teenagers and young adults in Indonesia who needed additional income, like her, started offering services to delete inactive social media accounts as a side hustle, promoting their business on social media. Say you want to delete an embarrassing photo online, but you’ve forgotten the login details of your old Facebook account—Iffah can help with that. For a small fee, she can wipe away your past from the internet forever. The $14 course she took taught her how to delete accounts on 26 different platforms, including Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, YouTube, and TikTok. She says she acts as a representative of her clients in applying for account or content deletion on social media platforms.
“A lot of people are interested. One client can have more than one account that they want to delete. I earned 700,000 Indonesian rupiah ($49) on my first day,” said Iffah from her home in Samarinda, the capital city of Indonesia’s East Kalimantan province.
After realizing just how much she can earn from this new gig, Iffah abandoned her online shop, where she sold face masks and soaps, and focused on growing her business. She launched a simple marketing campaign, asking her friends to share her service on social media. She also paid Instagram influencers to promote her, which flooded her with cases worth up to $350 a day.
Just four weeks after she started the business, Iffah launched her own online course to teach others how to delete social media accounts. She claimed to have had more than 600 students, some from outside Indonesia, by May 2021.
Iffah no longer teaches how to erase digital footprints, and now focuses on building a nationwide network of people who can offer the same services.
She charges anywhere from $0.70 to $21. She can work on simple requests, like deleting photos on Google, or more complicated ones like deactivating Twitter accounts. She reached her highest ever earnings in December, raking in $2,300 in a month.
“Praise be to God, I can help my parents pay my siblings’ school fees. My dad has found a new job as well, so I can use some of my money to buy a new car,” she told VICE. “My parents have told me to pursue a higher education so I can become a pharmacist.”
Nadya, who wished to be identified by a pseudonym to protect her privacy, joined Iffah’s online class in April to earn extra cash. She said she made $487 in four months, a relatively large amount for a 16-year-old.
Nadya said you only need a working smartphone and good internet connection to get into this business. She would ask clients to provide her with their ID card and screenshots of the account they want to delete. She gets to work once they agree on a price, and the client pays after the piece of content or profile is deleted.
“I deactivated [their accounts] legally, so there is no hacking and stuff like that. I need an ID card so I can ask Instagram, for example, to delete the account,” said Nadya. “Not all accounts can be deleted, though. The process would be harder if the photos are blurry. There is no way to convince Instagram that it was their account.”
Nadya said that the process may change at any time, but thinks deleting a TikTok account is the easiest at the moment.
Dejo, 20, who also wished to remain anonymous to protect his privacy, offers similar services and said that his clients are mostly those who are embarrassed by their old, cringey photos on Facebook and Twitter. He said that there are also some women who want to remove photos in old accounts where their hair is not covered with a hijab. But some requests are more bizarre.
“Someone asked me to delete a Facebook account of a woman whom they believed had an affair with their dad. They hoped that by deleting her account, it would make her stop contacting their dad. Of course, I can’t do that,” he said.
In these cases, he would turn to Iffah and ask her to help him deal with the potential client. Iffah herself has received a lot of unusual requests from strangers, from erasing a social media influencer’s online existence, to deleting photos of the client with their ex because their new partner would only agree to marry them after they do so.
However, it’s her ability to help survivors of gender-based violence that she loves most about her job. Iffah said she often receives requests from live streamers on the popular app BIGO, whose videos were uploaded to YouTube without their knowledge. She said these clients usually wore “sexy clothes” in the videos.
“There were viewers [on BIGO] who recorded the live stream and uploaded the videos on their own YouTube channels for personal gain. The woman on the video then asked me to delete them,” Iffah said.
She also receives requests from women to delete their nudes from the internet—usually posted by their exes—almost daily.
“Their Instagram accounts are hacked and [their exes] share their nudes. I would always prioritize these cases, even though I have other things to do,” she said. “I feel bad for them. What would happen to them if there was no service to erase digital footprints like this?”
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