[SPIRIT NEWSPAPER] Getting the Axe: Man Behind Faces of Kensington Instagram Account Tells All

As far as the founders of Faces of Kensington knew, the dust had settled around their infamous Instagram account. But — in light of a recent post and string of comments on Kensington Pride, a closed Facebook group — the morality of a social media account that documents (or in the minds of some, exploits) those pitted in a battle with addiction has once again come into question. 

“[It] Doesn’t matter where they are from, the struggles of another human being shouldn’t be put out on display for entertainment. They are someone’s daughters and sons,” Facebook user Ronnie K. posted in the thread on Kensington Pride.

Jamie H., another Facebook user, commented, “Whoever runs this account is an immature coward. Posting a picture of a child with their strung out parents? I don’t even have the words, please shut this down.”

So what do the “cowards” behind the account have to say?

To catch you up, Faces of Kensington was an Instagram account that centered around sharing images of those gripped by drug addiction at their lowest points. Posts to the Instagram account would depict people using drugs, neglecting their children and “nodding off,” among other things. Most of the photos posted by the account were taken in Kensington.

Faces of Kensington was a hit according to “J.”, 26, one of two Instagrammers behind the account. Both founders, who wished to remain anonymous, were 24 when they created the account. J. corresponded with Spirit News via Instagram direct messages.

I remember my buddy asked me, ‘How did we get 500 followers?,’” J. said. “I corrected him and said, ‘How did we get 545 followers?’ I then checked the page and realized we had gotten little over 500 new followers in a single night. From there it kind of blew up. We were nearly 10,000 strong when Instagram gave us the axe.”

espite their strong following, the curators of Faces of Kensington did not go unscathed. The Instagram account received its share of criticism, coming to a head some eight or nine months ago when Instagram gave the account “the axe” by removing it from the Internet after roughly two years of activity. The ban was completely unannounced; J. only found out when he tried to login to post more photos and was slapped with a notification that their page had been removed. 

“We aren’t banging down [addict’s] doors and watching them get high, waiting for them to do something stupid,” J. said. “Drive around in Kensington or any of the other ‘river towns’ and you won’t have to look at our page. The drug problem is real and it’s not hiding.

Despite the controversy, the founders were very aware of the vast following Faces of Kensington had amassed. “One thing I realized is that we had followers from damn near every demographic,” J. said. “Sort of like when Howard Stern started a lot of folks hated his guts, but generally those people were the ones who followed him most religiously.”

But as the account’s popularity soared, Faces of Kensington also unintentionally became a lost and found of sorts. People who had lost touch with friends or family members battling addiction would sometimes see posts featuring the likeness of someone they knew. The page’s curators would receive emails from people asking when and where the photo of their loved one was taken. While this wasn’t the account’s original intent, those running the page would always responding kindly to these emails and helped out as best they could.

“It was only after trying to help those people seeking a family reunion and seeing some positive comments people leave, that I realized it could be something more…,” J. said. “I’d like to think they found who they were looking for. I understand why they wouldn’t be in much of a hurry to tell me if they did. I’m just some asshole making fun of their loved ones.”

Bianca D. is a long-time Philadelphia resident who is currently in her mid-20s. Her family has been devastated by the heroin and opiate addiction of their eldest child. Her family also has firsthand experience with Faces of Kensington. 

In April 2015, Bianca’s sister Lesley sent her a text message. In it was a picture of their older sister, Lauren, who seemed dazed and caught off guard by a dumpster. Lauren was 31 at the time and was out of prison due to overcrowding.

Bianca quickly took to social media and shared the photo of her sister onto her own timeline. 

Faces of Kensington shows the ugly truth, it shows what people turn cheek to in this society,” Bianca said. “Because there isn’t enough effort in this city, or anywhere, being put into fighting this heroin and opiate epidemic. People don’t like seeing the truth.”

Bianca believes that the government is at fault for the opiate crisis in Kensington and elsewhere. “I posted [the photo of my sister] on my Facebook because I want people to see how the system allows addicts to get high for free,” she said. “I post it because I feel our government isn’t addressing the issue this society has with opiates.”

The reasons why Faces of Kensington was removed from Instagram were never made clear, but signs point to the account violating the social media platform’s terms of service — the founders believe it was due to “bullying.” The photos, when paired with witty (and sometimes brutal) comments, made the subjects of their posts the butt of a joke — or “a joke that thousands of people are in on,” as J. put it.

The guys behind Faces of Kensington have made a new account since the original was banned from Instagram. Now, facesofkensingtonpa has 1395 followers, 23 posts (at the time this article was written) and an inbox “full of winners,” according to J. 

“I guess in the new age of ‘organized internet,’ where everything comes with a username and password, the ability to say whatever the hell you want is going to become more and more difficult,” J. said. “Voice and opinion, one way or another… all they have to do is click a button and your account is no more. Social media is a business. We have the freedom to express ourselves, but not unless they give us permission.”