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Two weeks ago I had my Facebook account shut down for child pornography. Yup, you read that right.

A couple weeks ago, I was lying on my couch on a Tuesday night, relaxing with a glass of wine and watching TV at about 10:30pm. Suddenly, a strange text message came in from a family member:

It appears you’ve been hacked on Facebook. And it’s very bad.

Uh oh. So of course, I immediately try to log in on my phone and see what’s going on. I was greeted by the following message:

I replied to my text and asked what he saw. He told me that someone changed my profile picture to what appeared to be child pornography.

Ugh.

So as if that wasn’t bad enough, a little while later, I received an email from PayPal with transaction details for the Facebook ads I paid for, totaling about $150. Well, I didn’t buy any ads, so it’s pretty obvious this was the person who hacked my account. It seems to me that getting my account suspended (and likely revoked) was intentional. They broke in, spent my money on ads, and then did their best to get my account suspended as quickly as possible so I couldn’t contest the charges with Facebook, because get this, the only way to file such a claim is to log in to Facebook, which I can no longer do. Brilliant.

Since then, I’ve been doing everything I can to get reimbursed for the charges and get my account back, to no avail. Facebook is unresponsive and PayPal denied my claim (they told me to take it up with FB), so my bank is next, but I’m thinking they’re going to tell me the same thing. I also clicked the button below their Community Standards message to have Facebook review my case, but all I got was a message saying they may not be able to because they’re short-staffed, and after 30 days my account will be deleted, review or not. I’ll also mention this goes for Instagram too, since IG is also owned by Meta and the accounts were linked.

Aside from this account, I had a second FB profile that I used primarily for secular connections—sharing atheism news and resources, promoting my articles and book, and connecting with members of the nonreligious community that I haven’t necessarily met in person. Facebook shut that one down too, citing a Terms of Service violation for having multiple accounts.

Ironically enough, the only reason my Facebook and PayPal accounts were linked was because I donated to a local child advocacy center through a fundraiser on FB. Unbelievable. (Feel free to also donate to them, but not through FB. They do great work.)

While I was super annoyed that I was out 150 bucks, my FB account was likely gone forever, and the pages I run that are linked to that account were also wiped off the face of cyberspace, an unexpected feeling crept in: isolation.

I’m just one of thousands, if not millions of atheists who rely on social media to connect with others who I normally wouldn’t be able to interact with in the “real world.” The vast majority of my local friends and family don’t share the same beliefs that I do, and as I’ve shared in previous posts, I live in an overwhelmingly Christian community. Through conversations with many of my fellow nonbelievers over social media and at conferences, I know this is the same (and many times more severe) for a lot of folks.

So we turn to social media to be our “church”—not as a place of worship, but in the sense that we use it as a tool to build community, share ideas, vent, and interact in a safe place away from the bombardment of religious influence in our everyday lives.

Sure, there are other church-like replacements for the secular community, such as Meetup groups and Sunday Assembly, but those are usually found in larger metropolitan areas, not small-town America. Truth be told, I’m a member of my local atheist Meetup group, but its meeting times usually conflict with my schedule, forcing me to miss most events. Social media is available 24/7.

So when my social media church was suddenly taken away, it felt incredibly isolating. I no longer had easy access to these outlets or to my nonreligious comrades. My world shrank in a split second, and there wasn’t much I could do about it aside from starting over. It was then that I realized social media’s importance to atheists, as well as other marginalized communities who don’t easily fit in with the masses or find other members of their ilk so easily.

Thankfully, I’ve recently regained control of my second account after confirming my identity, but the hacked account will likely never be returned, as we get closer to the 30-day cutoff with no word from Facebook.

It’s funny, because when I take a step back and look at the situation, it’s just Facebook. Who gives a shit, right? It seems so petty and meaningless. So what? I couldn’t log in to this site that harvests our personal data, allows for the proliferation of propaganda, and paved the way for a Trump presidency. Doesn’t seem like that big of a loss. But then I look at what it’s done for me and many of my friends. It’s allowed us a safe space to “come out” and find each other, feel like we’re not alone, share our experiences as secular humans, and connect both online and in person. It’s been a conduit for good just as much as, if not more than, it’s been a tool for the malicious. It’s likely saved more lives than it’s ruined.

Maybe I’m just being too optimistic. But I’m ok with that.

What’s been your experience? Is social media your church? Would your secular circles be much smaller without it? Would losing it isolate you?

Kevin Davis is a columnist and activist focused on topics associated with life as a nonreligious American. He's a father of two boys in a predominantly Christian town in Western NY and writes about the...