Shadowbanning, otherwise known as ghost banning or stealth banning, is the name given when a user has been banned, unbeknownst to them, from an online community. From the user’s point of view, they will not have been notified about the ban, and everything will appear to be working normally for them.
A drop in engagement could be the first inkling that something is up.
Shadowbanning is a hot topic on Instagram right now. Since the beginning of 2017, heavy users were quick to notice sudden, sometimes quite drastic drops in engagement on their content. It became apparent that photos weren’t showing up in hashtag searches.
Enter, the shadowban.
Let’s use an example. Say you post an image on your account and include the hashtag ‘#blogger’. If you then searched for that hashtag immediately after posting, you would see two grids. One for ‘Top Posts’ and one for ‘Most Recent’. The top posts grid displays images chosen by the algorithm, that Instagram thinks you will like. The most recent photos are just that, all the photos that have been posted with that hashtag, in chronological order.
Or are they?
Users currently experiencing a shadowban will not see their most recent photos show up in the ‘Most Recent’ grid. They are shrouded in an invisibility cloak from all except their followers. Which as you can imagine, is extremely annoying if you’re trying to reach and engage with a larger audience. The best thing you can do to double check if you’re getting shadowbanned on a hashtag is to ask 2-3 users who are NOT following you (ask a friend) to search for a hashtag that isn’t used very commonly (so you can keep up with the recently posted images) and see if your photos are there. If all three users cannot see your photo in the ‘Most Recent’ grid, you’re experiencing a shadow ban.
Some users have reported this happening only with certain hashtags, others with their whole account. You can imagine the impact this has on some users.
So the question is how to lift this ban.
Here’s where the situation gets even worse because there’s no quick fix to lift a shadowban. Instagram have stated the following about the issues:
We understand users have experienced issues with our hashtag search that caused posts to not be surfaced. We are continuously working on improvements to our system with the resources available.
When developing content, we recommend focusing on your business objective or goal rather than hashtags. Having a growth strategy that targets the right audience is essential to success on Instagram.Good content on Instagram is simply good creative. And it follows the same three creative principles you’d apply to any marketing channel:- Have a distinct visual presence: Include your logo, an iconic brand element, a brand color or even a product you’re known for to make your content distinct and easily recognizable for the community.
– Be a storyteller: Tell a story that supports your business goal. Whether you want to raise awareness or increase sales of a specific product, make sure the imagery and copy latter up to your main goal.
– Put thought into your creative: Be well crafted to stand out. This doesn’t mean you need to build additional content for Instagram. It just means you need to put as much love and care into the content to inspire as you do in your business.
We truly appreciate your understanding and patience in this matter.
The Instagram Team
Not exactly the most helpful advice, is it? Essentially Instagram suggests not relying on hashtags as much, despite it being a major feature of the platform! This is Instagram’s way of admitting to shadowbans without actually giving them a label. I see you Insta, I see what you’re doing.
Preventing a Shadowban
The best thing to do right now, as soon as you’ve finished reading this article, is to stop and evaluate your account. Even if you haven’t been shadowbanned, it’s important that you know the dos and don’ts, so that you can avoid getting one.
I found this great article on Medium by Andrew Shini who speaks about 4 in depth ways to help you avoid shadowbans.
- Avoid automated apps and websites
- Learn how to spot dangerous apps & websites
- Learn about the banned hashtags and how to spot them
- Assess your online behaviour.
I for one didn’t even realise that so many hashtags were banned, I’m not even sure I knew that they could be banned! Keeping your account in check is the best thing you can do to prevent shadowbans. Don’t be tempted to use bots, keep an eye on your hashtags, and aim to grow your account organically.
I think I’ve been shadowbanned, what do I do?
If you’ve checked your account and your images aren’t showing up in hashtag search, it’s likely you’ve been shadowbanned. As annoying as this is, some users have managed to remove the ban from their account. It’s tough and there’s no overnight fix, but there are some things you can do. Alex Tooby has a great step by step guide helping you lift your shadow ban. Here are some of the key points:
- Don’t use bots.
- Take a break
- Report to Instagram
- Check Hashtags
Am I being Shadowbanned on Twitter?
Quite possibly. Instagram isn’t the only place where shadowbanning has been taking place. Recently more and more twitter users are reporting that they are being shadowbanned, but there is less concrete evidence of this happening, so far. Those who have experienced shadowbanning have noticed the following:
- They do not show up in search
- Their replies do not show up in conversations (threads).
- Tweets are sometimes shown as ‘unavailable at this time’ (even though they are)
- @mentions do not trigger notifications for the recipient.
- Tweets are hidden from a percentage of followers to limit influence
Scott Adams has an excellent case study he is currently working on, to investigate if shadowbanning is real or not, and to get a response from Twitter about it. Adams’ believes that his own account is being shadowbanned, and so is collecting as much evidence as possible to prove that it is real, and it is happening. After talking to Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey & Twitter’s Head of Safety Del Harvey, the official comment about shadowbanning was “No one … is shadowbanned on Twitter. It has never happened.”
Are we to believe this though? You only have to search #shadowban on Twitter and you can see plenty of users complaining and pleading with Twitter to lift their shadowban.
This is not is not to be confused, however, with Twitter’s newest safety features. Back in March this year, Twitter made a series of changes to help make the platform a safer environment for its users. Abusive users will no longer be able to make new accounts after they’ve already been suspended, ‘safer search’ has been improved to remove potentially sensitive content and tweets, and, potentially abusive or low-quality tweets will be now collapsed in replies.
Twitter are either being too strict with their new safety features, or shadowbanning is taking place.
What do we do about shadowbans?
The best thing we can all do about shadowbans is talk about them. Currently, on both Twitter and Instagram, there’s no official way to combat a shadow ban. On both platforms, shadowbanning doesn’t officially exist, but it is very obviously a problem that users are encountering.
Why are shadowbans being used? There’s two likely reasons. Firstly, in Instagram’s case, they could genuinely be trying to limit spam across hashtags. There is definitely evidence to back this up since some hashtags now have no feed at all because they were overrun with inappropriate, spammy images.
The other reason why Instagram could be trying to sway us away from relying on hashtags is so that we’re more inclined to think about advertising on the platform, to get the reach that we strive for. As you know, Facebook loves ads, and we’re quite used to them limiting our natural reach. We now know not to expect to see every single post in our feed. Paying for reach on Facebook has become the norm. Could Instagram be following suit?
Ultimately, social media networks could be introducing shadowbans as a way to combat spam and harassment amongst their users. In the last 12 months, Twitter has received huge criticism about the way they handle trolls and abusive users. Yes, now they have new safety features, but many feel this is too little too late. Incorporating a shadowban could be Twitter’s way, (and other networks) of trying to get a grip on things and improve the platform. After all, who wants to be known for having trolls on their platform?
We also have to consider that shadowbans might be a way of encouraging users to advertise. By monetising reach, you have complete control over users. By restricting reach, the promise of being heard in the crowd again is a pretty good incentive for users to pay up. If it will work though, or just drive more people away is yet to be seen.