Everything Social Media Users Need To Know About Shadowbanning

A couple of months ago Instagram users noticed that some of their tagged posts weren’t showing up on the public hashtag pages – they were able to see their post, but nobody else could.

shadowbanning instagram example
Source: Petapixel / An example of shadow banning where the photo shows up for the user responsible for posting the photo, but not for anyone else.

What is shadow banning?

Shadow banning, also known as stealth banning or ghost banning, is when a user is blocked from an online community, usually without being notified.

It happens when the community, or social network, detects something unusual in the user’s activity:

  • Binge liking, following & unfollowing (Twitter)
  • Fake Followers (Instagram, Twitter)
  • Banned violent/hateful content (All social networks)
  • Overuse of hashtags (particularly popular ones)

Social networks such as Twitter, and Instagram, are spending a lot of resources on combatting bots and automated tools from gaming their system and destroying the user experience they have created. Sometimes individual users are flagged accidentally, and banned because the algorithm that detects unusual activity suspects a hacker or bot.

How to tell if your account is shadow banned

The social networks are unlikely to tell you that you have been shadow banned unless your account has been suspended entirely. There’s also instances where the hashtag itself becomes black listed, and so nobody who uses the hashtag will have their post appear on the hashtag page.

In February, Instagram released this short statement, skirting around the subject of shadow banning:

If your engagement rate starts to go down, or your post doesn’t generate the likes you would expect, it might be time to do some detective work. Fstoppers recommends this Instagram shadow ban analyzing tool that checks your account, and posts for a shadow ban. It searches the hashtags you’ve used to see if they are showing up on the public hashtag landing page. If you’re using a lot of hashtags this tool saves a lot of time.

Note: If you publish hashtags en mass as a comment the above analyzing tool will likely say you have been shadow banned. That’s because Instagram often blocks popular tags from being overused. Don’t worry too much – it doesn’t mean your account has been shadow banned, only that your post may not be appearing for those set hashtags.

What to do if you have been shadow banned

Every social network is different when it comes to shadow banning. On Reddit a user might be shadow banned indefinitely simply for publishing self-promoting content. (In which case if you still want to use the network you need to create a new account, and try not to practice the same behavior again.)

If you’re an Instagram user the answer is complicated. There’s no set rules for removing the ban. But here’s some things you can try:

  • Remove the offending hashtag(s) from your post… if you can guess which hashtag it is that’s flagging your account.
  • Don’t use too many hashtags. Be more deliberate in your choices.
  • Don’t use the same hashtags. Again, be more selective in the hashtags you’re using.
  • Contact Instagram: Explain the problems you’ve been having with your posts and ask them if they can help. Don’t speculate or accuse them of shadow banning you.

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