Suddenly you notice that none of your social media activity seems to be showing up at all. It’s like you don’t even exist on the site… Weird!
Is it a bug? Every website suffers from them sometimes, and the interactive features can often be the first to go haywire. Server maintenance could also be the culprit.
But another possibility is that you might have been “shadowbanned” (previously called ghost banned).
Accounts that are shadowbanned are put into a kind of invisible mode. In other words, they become a “shadow” that no one can see.
In this post, we’ll talk more about what exactly shadowbanning is, and how you can tell if it happened to you.
What Is Shadowbanning?
Shadowbanning is when your posts or activity don’t show up on a site, but you haven’t received an official ban or notification.
It’s a way to let spammers continue to spam without anyone else in the community (or outside of it) seeing what they do.
That way, other social media users don’t suffer from spam because they can’t see it. The spammer won’t immediately start to look for ways to get around the ban, because they don’t even realize they’ve been banned.
Now, all of this might sound a little odd or shady. Since many websites and apps deny that they shadowban, there’s no way to know for sure that it’s happened.
If you suspect a shadowban, a change in the website’s search or newsfeed algorithm might actually be to blame. And since the algorithms are the property of social media companies, it’s not in their best interest to reveal everything about them publicly.
Regardless of whether you’ve been penalized deliberately or accidentally, the effect is still the same… no one can see your posts.
Sites That Shadowban
There’s no way of getting a full list of sites that shadowban people, since the practice isn’t entirely out in the open.
However, shadowbanning has been reported before under certain circumstances, on sites and apps like Facebook, Instagram, and TikTok, among others.
Respondents to a survey called Posting Into the Void reported four general types of shadowbans:
- A username or hashtag not showing up in search suggestions
- A decrease in follower engagement
- Certain features (e.g. likes or replies) being blocked
- A temporary ban that then reverts back to normal later on
Here’s how to tell if you’ve been shadowbanned on some popular social media sites:
Does Twitter actually shadowban people? Well, yes and no.
In a blog post, Twitter claimed that they don’t “deliberately make people’s content undiscoverable to everyone except the person who posted it”, and they “certainly don’t shadowban based on political viewpoints or ideology.”
However, they did say they “rank tweets and search results” to “address bad-faith actors”. Basically, if Twitter thinks you’re a spammer or a troll, its algorithm will penalize your content.
How to Avoid Getting Shadowbanned by Twitter
Twitter lists these as some of the factors they use to tell if you’re a “bad-faith actor” or not:
- Whether or not you’ve confirmed your email address
- Whether you’ve uploaded a profile picture
- How recently your account was created
- Who you follow and retweet
- Who mutes, follows, retweets, and blocks you
To avoid getting shadowbanned on Twitter, you should confirm your email address and upload a profile picture.
Don’t spam people and don’t be overly promotional. If you’re trying to sell a product or service and are posting too much, other users might block your content, causing a shadowban on your account.
You should also try to avoid trolling, getting into online arguments, or being too confrontational in your posts and comments. This can lead people to mute or block you.
How to Tell If You’re Shadowbanned on Twitter
There’s no way to tell for sure if you’ve been shadowbanned on Twitter. However, you could try using the site Shadowban.eu, which claims to be able to detect a shadowban.
How frustrating is it to work hard at building up an Instagram following, only to see that your posts suddenly aren’t showing up?
Like with Twitter, Instagram’s CEO has publicly claimed that “shadowbanning is not a thing”, but as with Twitter, that’s not entirely true.
While you personally might not be being shadowbanned, the algorithm could still be hiding your posts.
Instagram’s algorithm is designed to remove certain content. Namely, the algorithm penalizes content that Instagram considers “inappropriate”, even if the content doesn’t go against the app’s Community Guidelines.
Specifically, they mention sexually-suggestive content. According to their Community Guidelines, spammy content and content associated with illegal activity or violence is also a no-go.
Instagram prefers “photos or videos that are appropriate for a diverse audience”… so less family-friendly content may be at risk of a shadowban.
How to Tell If You’re Shadowbanned on Instagram
There’s no surefire way to tell if you’ve been shadowbanned on Instagram, but there are sites that say they can test it. Triberr is one option.
Shadowbanning on Reddit is a bit different from shadowbanning on other social media sites. Up until 2015, Reddit openly shadowbanned users who broke the site’s rules by hiding their posts.
Reddit then announced that the shadowbanning system had been replaced with an account suspension system. Basically, some Reddit staff thought that the shadowban tool had been useful for dealing with bots, but that banning real human users without telling them what they did wrong was unfair.
However, the site appears to still occasionally be using shadowbans, with the r/ShadowBan subreddit still active.
According to their official content policy, Reddit may enforce their rules by “removal of privileges from, or adding restrictions to, accounts”, and also by “removal of content”, among other methods.
How to Avoid Getting Shadowbanned on Reddit
Of course, to avoid getting shadowbanned on Reddit, you’ll need to follow their rules. But one tricky thing about that is that the rules on Reddit actually depend on the subreddit you are submitting to.
You’ll want to read and comment a lot first before submitting your own links. Watch how people react to various types of submissions within a specific subreddit, and then act accordingly.
You can also check out this unofficial guide on how to avoid being shadowbanned. Some key points:
- Don’t spam or post too many links to your own content (if you post a lot of other things too, posting one or two links to your own work is OK)
- Don’t harass or constantly downvote another user
- Don’t dox others or encourage doxxing (posting someone’s personal information without their consent)
- Don’t post illegal or inappropriate content
- Don’t abuse moderators or admins
How to Tell if You’re Shadowbanned on Reddit
To find out if you’re shadowbanned on Reddit, make a post in the r/ShadowBan subreddit. A bot will respond to you, letting you know if you’re shadowbanned.
Even if you’re not, the bot will tell you which posts of yours have been removed recently (if any).
You could also use a third-party tool, like Am I Shadowbanned?
TikTok is a popular social network for sharing short videos. Unfortunately, you can get shadowbanned there too (kind of).
While there’s no official mention of the term “shadowban” in TikTok’s Community Guidelines, like other social media networks, TikTok uses algorithms to privilege certain content. If you get on the wrong side of the algorithm, fewer people might see the content you post.
To have more people see your content and avoid penalties, try to follow best practices for TikTok’s recommendation algorithm, and always follow the Community Guidelines.
Stay away from illegal material, violence, hate speech, spam, and other similar topics.
To check if you’ve been shadowbanned on TikTok, look at your pageviews and “For You” page statistics. You can also use a hashtag and see if your post shows up under that hashtag.
Facebook calls its content moderation policy “remove, reduce, and inform.”
Basically, content that violates Facebook’s Community Standards will be removed from the site, while other undesirable content (like misleading information) may be less visible on Facebook or have a warning label placed on it.
If Facebook is consistently “reducing” your content, that could be considered a type of shadowban.
The main thing you can do to trigger a shadowban on Facebook is to share links to fake or misleading information. Content on the site is checked by independent fact-checking organizations.
Facebook also penalizes links from websites that its algorithm considers clickbait. Low-authority websites without a lot of inbound and outbound links that generate a lot of clicks on Facebook may be considered clickbait.
Facebook groups where a lot of misleading links and clickbait are frequently shared may be shadowbanned.
If you’re worried your personal page, business page, or group might have been shadowbanned on Facebook, check for a change in engagement levels on your recent posts.
While people don’t often think about getting shadowbanned on LinkedIn, it’s possible for your content’s reach to be throttled there.
Like other social media sites, LinkedIn has Community Policies that all members need to follow to avoid problems.
Since LinkedIn is a professional site, its content policies are even stricter than other platforms. Not only should your content be safe, legal, and appropriate, it has to be professional as well.
Although LinkedIn is obviously a place for career growth and self-promotion, spamming people is still a no-go.
You’ll need to respect others’ privacy and intellectual property. You should also avoid harassment or unwanted romantic advances towards other members.
If you violate LinkedIn’s policies, they may “limit the visibility of certain content, or remove it entirely.”
That said, the LinkedIn algorithm is pretty complicated. Even if your content is perfectly professional and high-quality, it might still not be getting the reach you want.
Engagement and relevance are the top two factors to keep in mind when creating content for LinkedIn.
While it’s not exactly a social network, it’s definitely still a site where people go to learn and share content. Can you be shadowbanned from YouTube?
Well, YouTube shadowbanning has been in the news because of popular creator PewDiePie. According to his fans, the Swedish videogame YouTuber’s channel was penalized in YouTube search.
YouTube’s official response was that it doesn’t shadowban channels, but that some videos might be flagged and need to be reviewed before they show up in search.
In an interview with Polygon, they said they were “currently working on fixing the issue.”
7 Ways to Avoid Getting Shadowbanned on Social Media
Different social networks have their own opinions on what type of violations merit a shadowban. However, we can definitely see some general trends that are worth noting.
How to not get shadowbanned
- Always stick to the Terms of Service
- Follow and watch power users in your category (see what and how they share)
- Don’t post links or copy-pasted content over and over
- If you’re unsure if the content is appropriate, avoid sharing it
- Treat others politely and respectfully
- Don’t use banned hashtags
- Avoid posting about illegal topics
What is shadowbanning?
Shadowbanning is when your posts or activity don’t show up, but you haven’t received an official ban or notification.
What are some sites that shadowban?
Facebook, Instagram, TikTok, Reddit, LinkedIn, YouTube, and others.
How can I avoid being shadowbanned?
Follow the site’s terms of service, don’t post spam or links that aren’t allowed, don’t post illegal content, and always treat others with kindness.
How do I end my shadowban?
This depends on each site. For some, it’s just a period of time you have to wait, while with others you have to ask customer service. Some users get permanently shadowbanned as well.
You may not have any idea you are being shadowbanned. At least not at first… though over time, you may begin to suspect it.
What you should do to protect yourself is to be careful that what you post isn’t against the terms and conditions of the site or app. Also, try to avoid spamming content, starting fights with and trolling other users, or posting things that might be considered inappropriate.
A shadowban can be frustrating, especially if you don’t feel like you deserve one. Maybe you don’t agree with the social media algorithm about what is or isn’t inappropriate, or maybe you think you were having a constructive debate while the algorithm thinks you were being a troll.
However, hopefully the tips in this guide can help you avoid being shadowbanned in the future, so your content can get better engagement.
What other ways can help people know if they’ve been shadowbanned? Let us know in the comments.
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Over the years, a number of users have pointed to a mysterious Instagram shadowban and its impact on their engagement and reach.
While it has yet to be confirmed by Instagram, we’re diving into the Instagram shadowban, what allegedly causes it, and how you can avoid it from happening.
What Is an Instagram Shadowban?
“Shadowban” isn’t an official Instagram term, but we know that Instagram has the power to deprioritize accounts on the app. Posts can be hidden or restricted, often unbeknownst to the user.
This can make your content (or account) undiscoverable via hashtags and the Explore page. And in some cases — the content may be taken down completely.
that @instagram is muting my voice please. I’ve had over 50 complaints about how followers can no longer find me. Or posts they commented on and their comments removed. I thought we were supposed to be #amplifymelenatedvoices
Getting shadowbanned can decrease reach, limit who can see your posts, and seriously affect engagement.
And with so many uncertainties surrounding Instagram shadowbans, it can be unnerving for creators and business owners trying to grow their communities and reach new audiences.
So what does Instagram say?
In 2018, Instagram’s team claimed: “Shadowbanning is not a real thing,” and stated that they do not hide people’s content for posting too many hashtags or taking other actions.
However, a year later, Instagram acknowledged that posts categorized as “inappropriate for our international community” would not be featured on the Instagram Explore Page — even if they are within Instagram’s Community Guidelines:
Source: Instagram Help Page
In summary, shadowbanning may not be an official term at Instagram HQ, but there are measures in place to restrict content that could be deemed as “inappropriate.”
And with over 95 million photos and videos shared on Instagram every day, the app’s moderation process is largely automated.
However, this process can be flawed.
In 2020, Instagram’s Adam Mosseri addressed shadowbanning in response to concerns that Black voices were being silenced on the platform.
In an effort to ensure Instagram is a place where everyone feels free to express themselves, Mosseri shared steps they were taking to improve users’ experiences:
Reviewing how content is filtered on Explore and Hashtag pages
Diving deeper into algorithmic bias and how it may affect Instagram’s products
Releasing more information about the type of content to avoid on the platform
And in 2021, Mosseri wrote that “we haven’t always done enough to explain why we take down content when we do, what is recommendable and what isn’t, and how Instagram works more broadly.”
He said the Instagram team is developing better in-app notifications so users know why a post was taken down or when it goes against their Recommendations Guidelines.
In short? Instagram shadowbans — however labelled — are here to stay. But as Instagram’s moderation evolves, we hope to see a more transparent and streamlined approach.
DID YOU KNOW: Later is an official Instagram partner, meaning using our app has Instagram’s stamp of approval. Easilyplan and scheduleyour Instagram content today with Later — for free!
What Causes an Instagram Shadowban? (+ How to Avoid One)
It’s not totally clear how Instagram determines what content gets restricted (or “shadowbanned”) on the platform.
However, these five actions are rumored to significantly increase your likelihood of being penalized:
Violating Instagram’s Community Guidelines or postinginappropriate content. This includes posts with violence, sexually suggestive content, and misinformation.
Fake engagements, such as paying for likes or comments, using bots to increase followers, and participating in engagement pods.
Spammy activity, for instance, using over 30 hashtags in a single post. Some users have also claimed that they’ve been shadowbanned for commenting on too many posts or following too many people within an hour.
Using banned hashtags. While Instagram hasn’t released an official list, here’s a blog post with certain hashtags to avoid.
Using a hashtag that receives a sudden surge of activity. This occurred in June 2020 when users shared information about #BlackLivesMatter. Instagram’s Comms team claimed it was an error — their technology detected the flurry of activity as spam.
How to Avoid an Instagram Shadowban
In addition to taking the above points into consideration, Instagram strategist Alex Tooby published a handy guide about shadowbanning with plenty of takeaways.
Here are four tips to keep in mind:
Don’t use software that violates Instagram’s Terms of Service such as bot-like software. Luckily, if you use an Instagram-approved tool like Later, you’ll be a-okay!
Don’t use banned or broken hashtags.
Avoid big surges in Instagram activity. Instagram imposes limits on user activity to crack down on bots. If you suddenly follow 50 accounts or like too many posts, it may be interpreted as “bot activity”.
Avoid spam-like activity, such as copy and pasting the same comment or DM, and following and unfollowing accounts.
Criticisms of the Instagram Shadowban
Many users have spoken out about Instagram’s algorithmic bias and the inconsistency regarding its definition of “inappropriate content”.
The #IWantToSeeNyome campaign was created by model Nyome Nicholas-Williams, photographer Alex Cameron, and activist Gina Martin, after a semi-nude image of Nyome was repeatedly taken down.
The aim of the campaign? To draw attention to the double standard regarding Instagram’s nudity policy.
As Nyome stated in a post, “Slim white bodies are praised for being nude and appreciating their form on this platform all the time and never have images taken down.”
As the movement grew, Instagram’s team responded and officially updated their nudity policy on October 28, 2020.
In another instance, Indigenous activists and creators noticed their educational posts about MMIWG (Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls) had disappeared from their followers’ Instagram Stories.
Writer Emily Laurent Henderson told CBC: “It’s very suspicious that it was only missing and murdered Indigenous Women’s Day posts.”
Instagram’s Comms team apologized and said it was a “widespread global technical issue not related to any particular topic.”
Adam Mosseri also tweeted, apologizing for the error:
With conversations surrounding Instagram shadowbans increasing, the need for transparency is at an all-time high.
How to Remove an Instagram Shadowban
So, you think you’ve been shadowbanned on Instagram — you’ve followed all of the rules, but your posts still aren’t reaching users, and your engagement is decreasing.
What can you do? Alex Tooby suggests the following:
Report Your Shadowban to Instagram
Remove Apps That Use Autobots
Review Your Hashtags
Take a Break From Instagram
Report Your Shadowban to Instagram
While Instagram has an official support email, we recommend using the native “Report a Problem” option within the Instagram app.
To do this, simply go to your Instagram Settings, tap Help, and select “Report a Problem.”
A pop-up should appear with a few options. Choose “Something Isn’t Working,” and write a message describing your issue.
Remove Apps That Use Autobots
We get it: using an Instagram scheduler that automatically posts your photos to Instagram is a great way to save time.
But if you use one that isn’t an official Instagram partner, you can end up on the Instagram shadowban list.
To find out if you have any bot services or unapproved apps linked to your account, head to your Instagram settings, tap Security, and then “Apps and Websites”.
Here, you’ll be able to see all of the active apps your account is using, any that have expired, and those you’ve removed.
TIP: If you’re looking for an Instagram approved scheduling app, you can download and connect Later!
Audit Your Hashtags
We’ve spoken about hashtags a lot, but for good reason! Using a banned hashtag is likely to get you shadowbanned on Instagram.
Review your hashtags and search for them on Instagram. If the “Top Posts” section appears but nothing else, it’s likely it’s been banned.
Sometimes Instagram will even leave a short message on the Hashtag Page explaining that posts have been hidden for not meeting community guidelines.
If a hashtag you frequently use is suddenly banned, remove it from your posts and keep an eye on whether the ban is lifted in the future.
Take a Break From Instagram
Some users have said that taking a few days off of Instagram has helped lift their Instagram shadowban.
This means, no posting, commenting, or even logging onto the app. After your break, there’s a chance you can go back to liking and posting as you normally would.
But remember to engage with everyone manually. It might take more time and effort, but it proves to Instagram that you’re abiding by their Terms of Service (and that you aren’t a bot!).
How Long Does an Instagram Shadowban Last?
At the moment, there isn’t a concrete answer, but it’s rumored to get lifted within two to three weeks.
However, there are outliers who’ve said it has been a month or longer.
Your best bet? To try and steer clear of an Instagram shadowban altogether.
ICYMI: Later is an official Instagram partner so you canplan and scheduleyour Instagram content with Later without getting flagged. Start posting today — for free!
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When you're trying to grow a following on Instagram, you depend on Explore and hashtag pages to expand your audience and reach. So it can feel more than a little disheartening when it suddenly seems like your content isn't showing up anywhere.
If you feel like your posts are receiving fewer likes and comments suddenly, or aren't appearing for certain hashtags or on the Explore page, you might be shadowbanned.
An Instagram shadowban refers to the act of hiding or restricting a user's content without informing the user that it's happening. This typically occurs when a user has violated Instagram’s community guidelines — or the content is otherwise deemed inappropriate. If you're shadowbanned, your content won't appear on anyone's feed, Explore, or hashtag pages unless they already follow you.
From Instagram's perspective, the objective of hiding "inappropriate" content makes sense (although its enforcement has been criticized.) Shadowbanning allows Instagram to filter out accounts that don't comply with their terms. Some people use inauthentic measures to expand their Instagram following, like buying followers or using hundreds of hashtags that are irrelevant to their content. If that's the case, it makes sense that Instagram hides content from those accounts so that only genuine and helpful content is promoted to users.
While Instagram doesn't openly admit to shadowbanning, they released a statement on their Facebook business page in February 2019 that addressed the problem users were having with their content not showing up for certain hashtags.
Their statement at least confirms the hashtag dilemma as a real one — but many speculate that the statement is Instagram's way of admitting to shadowbanning, without actually admitting it.
It's important to note that Instagram changes its algorithm often, so those alterations could be the reason you have witnessed a drop in your engagement rate.
However, shadowbanning could be a real tactic meant to hide users' content from the wider Instagram audience, and if you're being shadowbanned, it's important you take the necessary measures to get your content seen.
Let's explore how to know if you're shadowbanned, as well as our tips for getting yourself off the list.
Luckily, there's an easy test to figure out if your account is shadowbanned.
Am I shadowbanned on Instagram?
First, post an image with a hashtag that isn't often used. (If you use a hashtag that has millions of posts associated with it, it'll be hard to tell if content is banned, or just hidden by competition). Once you've posted, ask five employees or people who don't follow you to search the hashtag. If none of them see your post in those results, you've likely been shadowbanned.
If one or two of your employees can see your post, you might simply be dealing with a drop in engagement. If that's the case, you can take a number of steps to fix this.
Check out our Instagram Marketing: The Ultimate Guide for tactical advice on improving your reach and engagement.
While the method above is a simple way to test whether you've been shadowbanned, it may not be feasible for your business. Maybe you're the sole proprietar and employee of your small business. In that case, you can't ask employees to check their hashtag feeds and you might not want to ask your customers. Below are other ways you can test whether you've been shadowbanned.
Instagram Shadowban Test
There is no foolproof test to tell if you've been shadowbanned on Instagram. While there are tools that advertise they can do exactly that, these tools are not reliable. Instead, try the steps below.
Check your hashtag pages.
If you look at pages of hashtags you regularly use and see a message that posts have been hidden, it's possible you've been shadowbanned for using those hashtags.
Take a look at the message below for the hashtag "mustfollow." Since users reported recent posts using this hashtag as not meeting Instagram's community guidelines, it's possible Instagram may be hiding your content with this hashtag (even if yours is not in violation of any guidelines).
Check Instagram Insights.
Looking at Instagram Insights, if you notice a sudden and sustained drop in engagement, then it's possible you've been shadowbanned. One of the best metrics to look at is percent of accounts reached that weren't following you.
Take a look at the difference in "discovery" of the two posts below. This blogger duo went from reaching over 70K accounts, 32% of which weren't following them, to reaching a little over 40K, of which only 4% weren't already following them. This drop cued the bloggers in that their account had been shadowbanned.
If you believe you've been shadowbanned, don't worry — we have a solution for you.
Why am I shadowbanned?
There are a few potential reasons your account could have been shadowbanned. To ensure this doesn't happen again, let's explore some actions you might have taken that led you to being shadowbanned.
1. You use bots or another automated "Instagram growth" tool.
If you aren't putting in the hard work yourself, you're not growing a following authentically. Instagram frowns on this — in their statement above, for instance, they encourage users to have a strategy that focuses on connecting with the right audience. Using bots is a spammy tactic, and could result in a shadowban.
2. You use broken hashtags.
Occasionally, a popular hashtag will become overrun with inappropriate content. When this happens, Instagram can remove the hashtag or limit its use. If you use a broken hashtag, it will prevent your other hashtags from ranking, and could also result in a blocked account.
3. Your account is often reported.
When users repeatedly report an account, Instagram will assume your account is posting inappropriate content or violating their terms of service. They might disable your account, or they could shadowban it.
4. You've been posting, commenting, engaging, or following people too quickly.
Instagram places time constraints on how often you can follow, unfollow, like, comment, or post within an hour or day. This makes sense — if you're following 80 people within an hour, it's likely a bot doing the work, not you.
These actions might help you grow a following quickly, but they can't help you connect with the right people, which is why you're on Instagram in the first place. Additionally, these behaviors likely result in shadowban, which severely restricts your exposure to a new audience.
How to Get Unshadowbanned
To get your account back to normal, you'll want to reverse the damage. Here's how:
If you use a bot or another automated service, stop and delete it immediately.
To make sure the accounts aren't still attached to you, go to your desktop Instagram and click "Edit Profile", and then "Apps and Websites". If you see any of your bot accounts in the Active tab, click "Remove" to remove them from your account completely.
Remember, it's better to have 100 followers who love your brand and purchase your products, than 1,000 followers who never buy from you or interact with your content.
Don't use hashtags that have been banned.
Take a look at Markitor's list of banned hashtags for 2021, and make sure to remove all broken hashtags from your content. Here's a few from the list:
Moving forward, be selective and careful with the hashtags you choose, and when in doubt, take a look at the hashtag's page — Instagram will likely post a message like, "Recent posts from #summer2020 are currently hidden … ", which will indicate to you that the hashtag is no longer in use.
Take a two-day break.
People have reported a full 48-hour break from using their Instagram accounts can reset the system and get you back on track, and it's worth the temporary social media cleanse anyway, isn't it?
Follow Instagram's rules and regulations.
Only share content you created or have permission to share
Don't post content that's false or misleading
Do share content that's appropriate for anyone to see
The Foolproof Way to Avoid the Instagram Shadowban
The simplest way to avoid being shadowbanned on Instagram is to post helpful, authentic content, and abide by best practices when growing your audience. It will take longer to do this, but slow and steady wins the race — and doesn't get shadowbanned.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in August 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.
The scariest story around the fire at Social Media Camp? The Curse of the Instagram Shadowban.
Shadow banning is the first thing every social media marketer’s mind goes to when they experience sudden drops in engagement or reach.
It’s a scary thought that all your great content might be secretly hidden from the very people you want it to reach.
So even though Instagram CEO Adam Moserri recently announced to the world, in no uncertain terms, that “Shadow banning is not a thing,” it’s hard not to be suspicious when your engagement is going awry.
Well, I say no more ghost stories! Let’s throw some light into the shadow(ban) and find out the truth with a little radical first-person journalism. That’s right: I’m going to try to get shadow banned on Instagram. For the good of society! For truth! And because Hootsuite asked me to!
Let’s do this.
Bonus: 14 Time-Saving Hacks for Instagram Power Users. Get the list of secret shortcuts Hootsuite’s own social media team uses to create thumb-stopping content.
What is a shadowban?
Before I ruin my digital reputation, a quick primer: A “shadow ban” is when a user is blocked or muted on a social media site (or online forum) without their knowledge.
You haven’t necessarily broken any of the terms of service explicitly, but you’ve been doing something that the admins or moderators aren’t happy with… and they’ve quietly gone ahead and punished you by hiding or obscuring your posts and comments from other users.
How is this different from a straight up ban? It’s stealthy! No one tells you you’ve been shadow-banned, and you have no way to appeal a shadow ban.
(Do you have chills yet?)
On Instagram, that might mean your posts are no longer appearing (or appearing far less frequently) on your followers’ feeds or on the Explore page. Basically, Insta is trying to ice you out.
At least, that’s the theory. Even though “shadow-ban” is in the Oxford dictionary now, social media sites deny this practice is happening. And no one has really been able to prove it.
Still, plenty of people who have experienced an unusual dip in engagement or reach are convinced there’s something more happening behind the scenes. Is their content just not appealing to their audiences anymore? Has the Instagram algorithm changed? …Or are there bigger forces at play? (Cue the Serial theme song.)
To get shadow-banned, I was going to have to behave like other people who claim they’ve been shadow-banned from Instagram in the past — walk a mile in their #shoes, if you will.
There are a couple of common activities that users tend to suspect are driving the shadow bans:
- Using too many hashtags
- Using irrelevant hashtags
- Writing generic comments on a bunch of other people’s posts
Basically, behaving like a bot.
I decided that over the course of the week, I would post some content that normally would get high engagement, but alternate between tagging it with 30 related hashtags (e.g. #vancouver, #vancity), and 30 unrelated hashtags (#skateboarding, #elevator).
I’d also spend some time popping onto random Instagram posts I found on my Explore page to do my best bot impression, saying “Nice post!” over and over and over again.
I selected some beautiful imagery of Vancouver from a free stock photo site to pair with my obnoxious tags. I thought that would be imagery that would normally get a decent amount of engagement, so we could see if my tag-a-palooza really had a negative impact.
One caveat: I did write captions for each of my posts explaining that I was trying to get shadow-banned, so that my friends wouldn’t think I had been hacked by some talented, Vancouver-obsessed photographer. Not sure if that impacted the experiment at all, since I was more focused on the hashtag-and-comment effect, but I just thought you should know, because I am an honest scientist (whom some say is basically on par with Marie Curie at this point)?
Importantly, I also talked to my friend who believes he’s been shadow banned, to mentally prepare myself for this journey. He wished to remain anonymous, because now he’s scared of Instagram, so we’ll call him… Bramp.
Attempting to promote some of his artwork a few months ago, Bramp was copying the same collection of hashtags from an artist with a similar style. “The first post did great then the next did worse and then the next did worse than the last until it was only getting at most 100 views from hashtags,” he says.
Bramp started experimenting. And when he removed those hashtags that he’d been using, his reach exploded again.
Bramp now tries to mix up the hashtags he uses and searches for tags to make sure none of the ones he’s planning on using are banned.
Obviously this is just one anecdotal story, so we can take it with a grain of salt. And Bramp himself — dear, sweet Bramp — still isn’t 100% sure what, how or why his own drop in engagement happened. “I haven’t done a lot of testing in that area because I don’t like being shadowbanned,” he says. Fair enough.
So I guess that leaves me to take one for the team. Here we go!
TLDR: I tried to get shadow banned… and couldn’t.
In fact, in many ways, my shadow ban experiment got me an incredible amount of engagement. People were asking me to explain what shadow banning was. And not just my mom, I’ll have you know: various Millennials in my life were also very curious.
Meanwhile, over in the digital realm, my followers were being annoyingly active and supportive in the comments.
I used Hootsuite Analytics to check out what my engagement rate has been for my normal posts over the last three months. Then I compared them to this week’s series of posts, which I’m calling “The Shadow-ban Sessions” (working title). There’s definitely a dip — but still, looking pretty good.
My engagement this summer has been at 17% (I’m popular and now you know it)…
This past week, though, it plummeted to 9.87%.
Looking at Instagram’s in-house analytics, though, my reach seemed to be the same.
Here’s my reach for each of this week’s posts…
…and my reach for my posts from the past three months.
Some of my shadow ban posts are among the top 10. So… I guess the hashtags actually worked to help me?
However, when I looked a little deeper into each post, it seems like the inaccurate hashtags really weren’t doing me any favors. While my #vancouver-themed series of hashtags were still earning me exposure…
… my irrelevant hashtags (e.g. #teen, #kansas) were bringing almost no new users to my account.
But really, it makes perfect sense that irrelevant hashtags wouldn’t attract any new eyeballs. Why would someone looking for #italiano click on my photo of Vancouver’s most well illuminated bridge?
I wouldn’t say I’ve been “shadow banned” so much as I’ve been “correctly noted as being a liar.”
Overall I’m frustrated that I didn’t get banned or have a hard conclusion. But maybe by having no clear answer… I’ve found the greatest conclusion of all?
I had a strong audience who was already engaged.
I was posting quality photography, with fun authentic captions (IMO).
Maybe I had made myself impervious to shadow banning by (accidentally) using good engagement practices.
What do the results mean?
Likely, there is no “shadowban.” Instagram is just trying to improve the experience for all users by removing bots and bot-like behaviour. If you’re not providing value, it actually does make a ton of sense that Instagram wouldn’t be rushing to bump you up in the algorithm.
I still don’t have cold, hard proof that shadow banning is real. But the fact that I tried to get shadow banned and didn’t really feel any effects seems to indicate that if you’ve got great content (ahem) and a loyal audience, using quick-and-dirty hacks isn’t going to hurt your engagement.
If you’re just starting out though, abusing hashtags or spamming other people probably won’t get you much attention from the Instagram algorithm.
In other words: it’s probably best to not act like a bot!
If you’re trying to grow your audience quickly, I get why it’s tempting to go full-on with hashtags, try to tap into a trending topic or overdo it with the commenting. But true growth on Instagram doesn’t come from shortcuts.
You can’t buy followers, and you can’t game the system. To build real, meaningful engagement takes time, patience, creativity and authenticity.
So put the hashtags down (slowly… carefully… that’s it) and head over to study up on ways to increase engagement authentically. And then I’ll see you at the social media campfire, where I’ll be telling my own spooky tale, of the Friends Who Were Too Engaged On Your Experimental Instagram Post and Ruined Your Data Collection, OoOOooh!
Grow your Instagram presence quickly and authentically using Hootsuite. From a single dashboard, you can schedule and publish posts, engage your audience, and get useful data from experiments like this. Try it free today.
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What Is a ‘Shadow Ban,’ and Is Twitter Doing It to Republican Accounts?
An accusation that Twitter was suppressing conservative political views drew the attention of President Trump. Here’s what’s really going on.
When President Trump accused Twitter of “shadow banning” Republicans in a tweet on Thursday morning, it was the latest salvo in a long-running debate over whether social media platforms suppress conservative users because of their political views.
The president’s tweet came a day after a widely circulated article published by Vice News said that Twitter was shadow banning “prominent Republicans.” But many in the tech world said the Vice story — which was shared by prominent conservatives on Twitter, including the House majority leader, Kevin McCarthy; James O’Keefe; and Donald Trump Jr.— was based on a misunderstanding of the concept of shadow banning that could make an already tense debate more acrimonious.
So, what is going on here? What is shadow banning? Was Twitter actually doing it? Why is the president involved? We’ve got you covered.
What is shadow banning?
When a person is shadow banned, their posts on a platform are rendered essentially invisible to everyone but themselves. Their experience using a site may not change — they feel like they are still posting normally — but other people cannot see the material they produce, said Monica Stephens, a professor at the State University of New York at Buffalo who studies social media.
“Shadow banning is when you are algorithmically being kind of shut down, and that often has to do with, particularly, the content that you are posting,” Ms. Stephens said. “Maybe it doesn’t violate the terms of service, but they make it so other people can’t see that content.”
The benefit of this, from the perspective of an online community, is that if a user does not realize they have been shadow banned, then they are less likely to just open a new account and use that one to continue their unwanted behavior.
[Explaining President Trump’s executive order targeting social media sites.]
Is Twitter shadow banning Republicans?
No, it is not. Vice claimed that Twitter was shadow banning some Republicans because their accounts “no longer appear in the auto-populated drop-down search box.”
The profiles appear when conducting a full search, the article noted, but not in the “more convenient and visible drop-down bar.”
Basically, you could still search for the accounts, but Twitter would not automatically suggest them. But that is not what shadow banning means — or meant before this week — and on Wednesday and Thursday, the internet engaged in a real-time debate over its definition.
In a statement, Twitter flatly rejected the claim made by Vice: “As we have said before, we do not ‘shadowban.’”
Kevin Collier, a tech writer at BuzzFeed News, marveled at the misuse of the phrase by both Vice News and the president. A spokesman for Vice did not respond to an email seeking comment on Thursday.
The Republicans mentioned by Vice News included Ronna McDaniel, the chairwoman of the Republican Party; Representatives Mark Meadows, Jim Jordan and Matt Gaetz; and Andrew Surabian, a spokesman for Donald Trump Jr., who does not hold a position within the party.
After the story was published, many Republicans said they felt vindicated by its claims.
But all of these people’s Twitter accounts, and new tweets they write, are still visible to the public. When you type their names into the search box and hit “return,” Twitter includes them in the results. When you type their names into Google, their Twitter accounts and their three most recent tweets are often the top search result.
In short, their Twitter accounts remain highly visible.
“That is not at all shadow banning,” Ms. Stephens said. “This all goes back to a lot of people not understanding how the social media they interact with works.”
Why is this happening?
That is the evergreen question of life on the internet.
It is true that the names of some Republican officials are not auto-generating in Twitter’s drop-down search bar. Twitter has said it is aware of this situation and it trying to fix it.
“The profiles, Tweets and discussions about these accounts do appear when you search for them,” the company said in a statement on Wednesday. “To be clear, our behavioral ranking doesn’t make judgments based on political views or the substance of Tweets.”
What does that mean? Well, as even the most casual Twitter user may be aware, the site has a problem with people on it saying and doing terrible things, from Russian election hackers to the former Ku Klux Klan leader David Duke.
Tech companies like Facebook and Twitter have wrestled mightily in recent years with how to combat the impact trolls have on the experience of other users, and what to do when their behavior either begins in the real world (in the case of Russian hackers) or spills over into it (for example, by causing mob violence in India).
In May, the company said in a blog post that it would start using “policies, human review processes, and machine learning” to monitor accounts. The results of that review would “now be considered in how we organize and present content in communal areas like conversation and search,” it said.
But on Wednesday, Twitter's head of product, Kayvon Beykpour, defended the company’s efforts.
And on Thursday morning, Vice News updated its original story and headline with a statement saying, “Twitter appears to have adjusted its platform overnight to no longer limit the visibility of some prominent Republicans in its search results.”
blocking or partially blocking a user or content from an online community without their awareness
Shadow banning, also called stealth banning, ghost banning or comment ghosting, is the practice of blocking or partially blocking a user or their content from an online community so that it will not be readily apparent to the user that they have been banned. For instance, shadow banned comments posted to a blog or media website will not be visible to other users accessing the site.
By partly concealing, or making a user's contributions invisible or less prominent to other members of the service, the hope may be that in the absence of reactions to their comments, the problematic or otherwise out-of-favour user will become bored or frustrated and leave the site, and that spammers and trolls will be discouraged to continue their unwanted behavior or create new accounts.
In the mid-1980s, BBS forums including Citadel BBS software had a "twit bit" for problematic users which, when enabled, would limit the user's access while still allowing them to read public discussions; however, any messages posted by that "twit" would not be visible to the other members of that group.
Michael Pryor of Fog Creek Software described stealth banning for online forums in 2006, saying how such a system was in place in the project management system FogBugz, "to solve the problem of how do you get the person to go away and leave you alone". As well as preventing problem users from engaging in flame wars, the system also discouraged spammers, who if they returned to the site would be under the false impression that their spam was still in place.The Verge describes it as "one of the oldest moderation tricks in the book", noting that early versions of vBulletin had a global ignore list known as "Tachy goes to Coventry", as in the British expression "to send someone to Coventry", meaning to ignore them and pretend they do not exist.
A 2012 update to Hacker News introduced a system of "hellbanning" for spamming and abusive behavior.
Craigslist has also been known to "ghost" a user's individual ads, whereby the poster gets a confirmation email and may view the ad in their account, but the ad fails to show up in the appropriate category page.
Early on, Reddit implemented a similar feature, initially designed to address spam accounts. In 2015, Reddit added an account suspension feature.
WeChat was found in 2016 to have banned, without notice, posts and messages that contain certain keywords.
A study of tweets written in a one-year period during 2014 and 2015 found that over a quarter million tweets had been censored in Turkey via shadow banning.Twitter was also found, in 2015, to have shadowbanned tweets containing leaked documents in the US.
In 2017 the phenomenon was noticed on Instagram, with posts which included specific hashtags not showing up when those hashtags were used in searches.
"Shadow banning" became popularized in 2018 as a conspiracy theory that Twitter had shadow-banned Republicans. In late July 2018, Vice News found that several supporters of the US Republican Party no longer appeared in the auto-populated drop-down search menu on Twitter, thus limiting their visibility when being searched for; Vice News alleged that this was a case of shadow-banning. After the story, some Conservatives accused Twitter of enacting a shadowban on Republican accounts, a claim which Twitter denied. However, some accounts that were not overtly political or Conservative apparently had the same algorithm applied to them. Numerous news outlets, including The New York Times, The Guardian, Buzzfeed News, Engadget and New York magazine, disputed the Vice News story. In a blog post, Twitter said that the use of the phrase "shadow banning" was inaccurate, as the tweets were still visible by navigating to the home page of the relevant account. Later, Twitter appeared to have adjusted its platform to no longer limit the visibility of some accounts. However, recent research shows that user-sided observations can highlight some notable differences in the visibility of several groups.
TikTok is an app that has come under fire for their filter bubble, as well as for "shadowbanning" users who create or promote content regarding the experiences of marginalized groups. The app released a statement in October 2020 detailing how their algorithm promotes content to users, and addressed the concept of a filter bubble directly, stating that there "is a risk of presenting an increasingly homogenous stream of videos", but assuring users that they take this issue seriously.
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- ^ abRuan, Lotus; Knockel, Jeffrey; Q. Ng, Jason; Crete-Nishihata, Masashi (30 November 2016). "One App, Two Systems: How WeChat uses one censorship policy in China and another internationally - The Citizen Lab". The Citizen Lab. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
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- ^Doctorow, Cory (December 2, 2016). "China's We Chat "shadow-bans" messages with forbidden keywords, but only for China-based accounts". Boing Boing. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
- ^Tanash, Rima S.; Chen, Zhouhan; Thakur, Tanmay; Wallach, Dan S.; Subramanian, Devika (1 January 2015). "Known Unknowns: An Analysis of Twitter Censorship in Turkey". Proceedings of the 14th ACM Workshop on Privacy in the Electronic Society. WPES '15. New York, NY, USA: ACM: 11–20. doi:10.1145/2808138.2808147. ISBN . S2CID 207229086.
- ^Ohlheiser, Abby (30 October 2015). "Tweets are disappearing on Twitter. Why?". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
- ^Pearson, Jordan (October 19, 2015). "Is Twitter Censoring a Blockbuster Report on US Drone Assassinations?". Motherboard. Retrieved 26 July 2017.
- ^Lorenz, Taylor (7 June 2017). "Instagram's "shadowban," explained: How to tell if Instagram is secretly blacklisting your posts". Mic Network Inc. Retrieved 4 November 2017.
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- ^"Photographers Claim Instagram is 'Shadow Banning' Their Accounts". PetaPixel. 28 March 2017. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
- ^Romano, Aja (6 September 2018). "How hysteria over Twitter shadow-banning led to a bizarre congressional hearing". Vox.com.
- ^Thompson, Alex (26 July 2018). "Twitter appears to have fixed "shadow ban" of prominent Republicans like the RNC chair and Trump Jr.'s spokesman". Vice News. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
- ^ abStack, Liam (26 July 2018). "What Is a 'Shadow Ban,' and Is Twitter Doing It to Republican Accounts?". The New York Times.
- ^Warzel, Charlie (July 26, 2018). "Twitter Isn't Shadow-Banning Republicans. Here's Why". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
- ^Feldman, Brian (25 July 2018). "Twitter Is Not 'Shadow Banning' Republicans". Intelligencer. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
- ^Wilson, Jason (27 July 2018). "What is 'shadow banning', and why did Trump tweet about it?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
- ^Swapna Krishna (26 July 2018). "Twitter says supposed 'shadow ban' of prominent Republicans is a bug". Engadget. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
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‘Shadow Banned’ meaning explained: Secret social media blocking is a normal practice
There has been a lot of talk around users being ‘shadow banned’ from different social media platforms, but what does the term actually mean on the internet?
Have you ever been using a social media platform and your engagement with other users/followers just suddenly drops dramatically? You could have been shadow banned.
The term may have become popularised in 2018 after Twitter was accused of shadow banning Republicans, but the term has recently been doing the rounds on TikTok.
So, what does the term ‘shadow banned’ actually mean and how does it all work?
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What does ‘shadow banned’ mean?
- Shadow banning, also known as stealth banning, ghost banning or commented ghosting, is the act of blocking or partially blocking a user from a platform without it being apparent to that user.
Here, a specific user’s posts, likes or comments within an online community or on a particular social media platform would be hidden from all other users. However, the user in question would not be aware of this as their content would still be visible from their own device.
The hope is that by shadow banning a particular user, they will become frustrated or bored and leave the site, or would cause more hassle to spammers and trolls who must then create new accounts if they wish to continue harassing a certain community.
You can also be shadow banned from certain video games. For instance, if you are banned from a title for cheating or using hacks, you could also be banned on a fresh account if you are playing from the same computer/console.
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What platforms use shadow banning tools?
The vast majority of social media platforms will use or have used some type of shadow banning tool at some point; notably Craigslist, Reddit, Twitter and Instagram.
Interestingly, the first case of shadow banning was described in the mid-1980s on Bulletin Board Systems forums. Specifically, the ‘Citadel’ BBS software would deem certain problematic users as “twits” who could still read public discussions, but whose posts would not be shown to members of that group.
However, the first use of a practice similar to shadow banning actually occurred back in the 1970s in Dungeons and Dragons text-based chat rooms, called ‘Toading’. According to internet anthropologist Claire Evans, ‘Toading’ was the “act of metaphorically turning someone into a ‘toad’ as a punitive measure” which would make the user invisible to other players.
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What can get a user shadow banned/unbanned?
The criteria for becoming shadow banned depends on the particular platform, but usually involves some form of spamming, abusive behaviour or copyright infringement.
For example, Reddit implemented a feature similar to shadow banning that addressed spam accounts, whereas WeChat suspended users if they made comments that contained certain ‘flagged’ keywords/phrases.
If you are shadow banned from a certain community, the way to get un-shadow banned will vary depending on the platform. However, the usual advice is to delete all content that could potentially go against the platform’s terms of service, uninstall/reinstall the app and just wait it out – sometimes shadow bans are only temporary, so may only last a few days or weeks.
You can check out an article on shadow banning on TikTok specifically, here.
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