Getting shadowbanned is every social media manager’s worst nightmare.
Sure, most social platforms deny the shadowban is really a thing at all. We even tried for ourselves to get shadowbanned on Instagram, with no luck. But there are many, many, many people out there who are adamant that the shadow is real, and who fear its consequences.
(Wait a minute… is this the “shadow” that Ashlee Simpson was singing about?!)
Whether you believe in social media shadowbans whole-heartedly, or just want to take a better-safe-than-sorry approach, read on for the lowdown on each platform’s official stance on the matter and best practices for avoiding getting shadowbanned on Instagram or any other social network.
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What is a shadowban on social media?
A shadowban is when a user is muted or blocked on a social media platform (or forum), without receiving any official notification about it.
Your posts, comments or activities may suddenly be hidden or obscured; you may stop showing up in searches, or see a drop in engagement because no one (including your followers) can see your content in their feeds.
You may not have broken the terms of service or done anything that would call for an out-and-out ban, but you’ve done something that the moderators or admin aren’t happy about. And now, you’re being punished, but because no one tells you explicitly that you’ve been shadowbanned, it’s impossible to make an appeal to fix it.
In other words: believers allege that shadowbanning is the equivalent of a quiet, stealthy silencing from the head honchos of the social network in question. Chilling!
But is that truly how social media platforms operate? Or is it just a conspiracy theory?
Let’s see how the platforms themselves explain this alleged shadowban phenomenon.
The last time Twitter talked about shadowbanning explicitly was in this blog post from 2018.
Right off the top, Twitter is pretty clear:
“People are asking us if we shadow ban. We do not.”
The authors go on to affirm that you’ll always be able to see tweets from accounts you follow and that people are not banned based on political viewpoints or ideology.
That being said, they also clarify that tweets and search results are ranked by relevance. The model boosts content based on who you’re interested in and what tweets are popular, and downgrades tweets from what they call “bad-faith actors”: those who intend to “manipulate or divide the conversation.”
Reading between the lines: if you’ve been behaving in a bot-like way, spreading misinformation or getting blocked a lot, Twitter’s going to rank you a lot lower in the search results and news feed because, well, you’re not providing great value to other users.
The CEO of Instagram, Adam Mosseri, has been adamant that shadowbanning is not a thing.
I asked @mosseri this question, knowing full well how he was going to respond.
There you have it guys. Again.
— Jackie Lerm 👩🏻💻 (@jackielerm) February 22, 2020
He’s also said that showing up on the Explore page “isn’t guaranteed for anyone,” elaborating that “sometimes you’ll get lucky, sometimes you won’t.”
There is, however, a little more to it than luck.
Instagram’s policies confirm that it hides public posts that it deems “inappropriate” from the Explore and hashtag pages. So even if you aren’t violating any guidelines, if Instagram decides that your post isn’t up to snuff for broader consumption, you might find yourself quietly excluded from the platform’s discovery tools.
Beyond its Community Guidelines, the violation of which can get you banned, the platform also has Content Recommendations. This is content that’s allowed to live on the platform, but that Instagram would prefer to not share with others or recommend. This includes explicitly suggestive content, content that promotes vaping and a variety of other topics.
So if you’re dealing with content that falls under this umbrella, you may not have been shadowbanned per se, but Instagram is certainly not helping promote your posts.
Like the other social platforms, TikTok claims that it doesn’t shadowban.
But the app did face some major controversy when documents emerged that suggested admins were explicitly suppressing content from certain demographics of creators.
All we know for sure is that there’s no direct mention of “shadowbanning” in TikTok’s Community Guidelines, and that TikTok recommends following its best practices to ensure your highest chances of exposure via the platform’s recommendation algorithm.
The official YouTube Twitter account has declared loud and clear that “Youtube doesn’t shadowban.”
YouTube doesn’t shadowban channels. It’s possible the video was flagged by our systems as potentially violative & needs to be reviewed first before it shows up in search, etc. Note that reviews are taking longer since we have limited teams due to COVID-19: https://t.co/f25cOgmwRV
— TeamYouTube (@TeamYouTube) October 22, 2020
Though many YouTubers suspect otherwise, the platform insists that any low-performing or unsearchable videos are the result of potential term violations.
“It’s possible the video was flagged by our systems as potentially violative & needs to be reviewed first before it shows up in search, etc.,” said the team in a 2020 tweet.
Facebook has been unusually silent on the topic of shadowbans. No one’s said they do shadowban, but no one has said that they don’t.
Facebook’s “remove, reduce and inform” content policy does seem to teeter a little bit on the edge of shadowban-esque behavior. Posts that violate the Community Standards or Ads Policies are taken down altogether, but posts that contain what Facbeook calls “problematic content” might be dropped low in the News Feed ranking.
“[These are types of] problematic content that, although they don’t violate our policies, are still misleading or harmful and that our community has told us they don’t want to see on Facebook — things like clickbait or sensationalism,” said Facebook in a 2018 blog post.
Basically, if you’re not posting quality content, Facebook doesn’t want to help you spread it around. Is that shadowbanning, or just community management?
Depends who you ask, I guess!
How to tell if you’ve been shadowbanned
To recap: social media platforms don’t acknowledge that shadowbanning is real. But if you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, the rest of the internet might just diagnose you as a victim of the dreaded shadowban.
- You see a dramatic dip in engagement. The number of likes, comments, follows or shares on your latest post has taken a severe tumble.
- Your username or hashtag isn’t showing up in search suggestions. Other users aren’t able to find or discover your content, though they have been able to to do so in the past, and typically see your posts at the top of their feeds.
- Certain features suddenly are unavailable to you. Suddenly the functionality of the platform has changed, but weirdly, none of your friends are experiencing the same issues.
Of course, there may be a less nefarious explanation than a shadowban. Maybe there’s just been a change in the algorithm. Maybe there’s a bug!
…Or maybe, if you’ve been posting low-quality content, behaving in a bot-like way or spreading misinformation, it’s the platform’s way of warning you to smarten up and fly right.
We may never know the truth! But just in case shadowbans are real, here are the best ways to avoid experiencing them:
7 ways to avoid getting shadowbanned on social media
Don’t violate community guidelines
All of the platforms have community guidelines to help keep content in check. Usually, these guidelines prohibit illegal activity, hate speech, nudity or misinformation. If you’re violating any of these things explicitly, you’re likely going to get straight-up banned or have your content removed.
But if you’re posting content that’s in a grey area — not explicitly against the rules, but not exactly safe for all audiences — you also may be at risk of being down-ranked or hidden.
Don’t act like a bot
Using irrelevant hashtags, using too many hashtags, following a bunch of people in a short amount of time or commenting on too many posts too quickly: that’s bot-like behavior. And platforms are typically trying to weed that out. (It’s what we tried to replicate in our own shadowban experiment!)
Act like a human, and your content is much more likely to be shared and promoted in feeds and on discover pages.
Along those same lines: make sure your profile looks like the profile of a real-life person (or legitimate brand) by completing all the relevant fields, ensuring you have a proper profile picture and using a real email address for your contact info.
Don’t use banned hashtags
Every so often a popular hashtag will get co-opted by inappropriate posters, and sites might remove a hashtag from the search, or limit the content.
If you use the hashtag anyways, your content definitely isn’t going to show up in a search or in recommendations, and it might even result in a blocked account.
There’s no official list out there for blocked hashtags, but a quick Google search will reveal a bunch of sites that do keep track of this sort of thing. Can’t hurt to check that #coolteens or whatever is still functioning before you go ham with the hashtags, right?
Don’t be spammy
Posting the same links over and over again, or sharing repetitive content can allegedly trigger shadowbanning… and worse, it’s definitely going to trigger some eye-rolls from your followers. Stick to fresh, interesting content and not hand-generated spam for maximum engagement.
Posting regularly, at the best time for each social media platform, is the best way to create authentic engagement with your followers and maximize your chance for discovery. If you’re posting sporadically, when no one’s online to see what you’re up to, you might just feel like you’re screaming into the void (or the shadow)!
Don’t pay for likes or comments or followers
Not only is paying for likes a terrible social media strategy, it’s a potential red flag to the social networks. When you suddenly have 3,000 new fans from Russia following you within an hour and all comments now say “Cool pic wow hot” it can be a bit of a hint that something funny is afoot.
The algorithm certainly doesn’t reward this sort of sneaky workaround, and apparently it may also lead to shadowbans, too. So either way: it’s best to avoid shopping for friends.
Treat others respectfully
No trolling! No harassment! If you’re constantly getting reported or flagged by other users for your behavior online, that’s a good reason for any platform to keep your content off of others’ radar.
literally me finding out my shadowban was gone oh my god happiest day of my LIFE pic.twitter.com/eyPS33TgA3
— daphne (@daphswrld) September 15, 2021
Final thoughts on shadowbanning
Really, all of these suggestions for avoiding a shadowban ultimately boil down to being a good social media citizen.
It’s simple: create authentic, helpful content that other users are going to be excited to see, and play by the rules. This isn’t just good advice for avoiding alleged shadowbans: it’s the foundation for building a successful, engaging social media presence online.
If you think you have been shadowbanned, report your shadowban to the platform, remove any unauthorized third-party apps you’re using, review your hashtag game, and then take a break for a few days and come back ready to bring your social content A game.
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