Befriending My Iranian Instagram Hacker

Brian A. Jackson (Getty Images)

After her sought-after, five-letter Instagram handle was stolen by an Iranian hacker, professor Negar Mottahedeh opened up the door to her former homeland, striking up an unlikely friendship with the thief to learn more about a man struggling to earn a living in an economy compromised by 35 years of U.S.-led sanctions. Read the story at Backchannel.

How good of a hacker was he, really? Who were his friends? What sorts of things did he enjoy? What were he and Negar like when they were together? Not knowing him unsettled me. So I was determined to find out.

Mohamad was curious about me, too. It was odd, considering that I was much older than him. It felt like he wanted a trusted friend—someone he could use as a sounding board. He chose me.

He needed money, but more than that, he wanted to find a way out of Iran. He asked me about student visas, tourist visas, work visas; he’d send me links or screenshots with sections circled in red ink, asking me to read through them for him. He discussed his marriage options. Could he find an American girl to marry so he could stay in the US after he got there? Or could I maybe adopt him?

But by robbing me of my online identity, my hacker had unshuttered a window to life in the country of my birth. While I had been barred from my home as a young child, my new setting was chock-full of luck. With my Instagram hacker in my life, my fortuitous situation stared me in the face. Looking at myself through his eyes, my life was abundant. I felt fortunate. I wasn’t about to give up the friendship I had forged with my hacker for anything.

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