You’ve probably heard of the Instagram Shadowban by now. Or maybe you’ve seen dozens of posts about Instagram accounts’ reach and visibility plummeting. As well as content not appearing on the Explore Page!
More reports, theories, and complaints pouring onto social media every day, even as Instagram denies its existence.
So is it a cover-up, or is there a much simpler explanation? Looking at statements and articles over the past three years, we think there is a pretty straightforward reason. And, some tips on what to do if you are shadowbanned.
Ready to investigate? 🔍
What is the Instagram Shadowban?
Instagram shadowban – what is it? There seems to be more theories and rumors about the shadowban floating around out there than solid fact.
Basically, an Instagram shadowban refers to the platform limiting your content reach by restricting visibility. The primary “indicator” of a shadowban is your hashtagged content not appearing on Explore pages to anyone but your followers. Your reach and visibility for posts being severely limited is another result.
Our first important clue? Shadowbanning is a term lifted from a similar action on Twitter. It’s not an official term, but rather a popular one among social media users.
What do Facebook + Instagram Say About the Shadowban?
Instagram and Facebook have both denied the existence of a shadowban. Here’s a timeline of statements from the company on shadowban.
2017: Instagram for Business published a message about hashtag search, hinting that this was a result of issues with the system.
2018: Instagram hosted a group of reporters at its headquarters to explain the Instagram algorithm. They were told the shadowban does not exist.
2019: Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri answered at least two questions related to shadowbans.
Q: Shadowbanning: It’s not a thing, right?
A: “Shadowbanning is not a thing. If someone follows you on Instagram, your photos and videos can show up in their feed if they keep using the feed. Being in Explore is not guaranteed for anyone. Sometimes you’ll get lucky, sometimes you won’t.”
Q: Why I don’t see my post under hashtag?
A: “Some people don’t realize this but we don’t actually show every post with a hashtag under that hashtag. We try to show people the ones that they might be the most interested in. This is to try and keep hashtag pages interesting but also to avoid spam and abuse.”
Things started to make sense with the Instagram shadowban in 2019. That’s when TechCrunch broke the news on an update from Facebook and Instagram. That update may be the best explanation for what’s actually going on behind the scenes.
And as Carolina Hadas succinctly put it (after her own scuffle with Instagram over hashtag restrictions):
“Shadowban is a term that Instagram doesn’t use. They’ve never used it, they’ve always denied it was a thing. It doesn’t mean that the things included in the shadowban label are not happening.”
This is the element we feel has been missing from the whole conversation around shadow bans on Instagram! It makes sense to deny the existence of shadowbanning, because Instagram doesn’t call it that. However, based on actual user experience, the shadowban experience is definitely a thing.
Let’s dive into what’s actually happening on Instagram, and why posts and visibility are getting restricted.
Reduce, Remove, Inform: The Instagram Borderline Content Policy
Understanding “shadowbanning” on Instagram and what that actually looks like takes some research. Let’s look first at their parent company, Facebook’s remove, reduce and inform strategy (Active since 2016.)
This involves removing content that violates our policies, reducing the spread of problematic content that does not violate our policies, and informing people with additional information so they can choose what to click, read or share.” – Tessa Lyons + Guy Rosen, Facebook
Tessa Lyons + Guy Rosen, Facebook App
The important part here is Reduce. As a Facebook Product, Instagram also reduces the visibility of questionable content that hasn’t violated Instagram Community Guidelines outright.
“We’ve started to use machine learning to determine if the actual media posted is eligible to be recommended to our community.”
Will Ruben, Instagram Discovery Product Lead
Instagram moderators label borderline content while reviewing policy violations. Instagram’s algorithm then uses those labels to identify borderline content and suppress its reach.
What is Borderline Content on Instagram?
Borderline content on Instagram refers to content that is inappropriate but does not violate Instagram’s terms of service or Community Guidelines.
Instagram published a brief article in the Help Center in 2019, but it doesn’t really define borderline content.
But the screenshots in the presentation shared by TechCrunch give us some examples:
- Content depicting violence
- Graphic or shocking content
- Sexually suggestive content
- Posts with misinformation
- Spam messages
There’s no way to know for sure what constitutes as borderline content yet. here are some actionable things you can do to avoid posting it.
Plus, some tips on how to fix a “shadowban” on Instagram if you think you’ve been hit with one.
How to Check if You’ve Been Shadowbanned
If you can’t already tell, the “shadowban” policies on Instagram make discovering if you’ve been penalized pretty difficult. There is no sure-fire way to know if you’ve been shadowbanned, but here are a few tests to run that should give you a pretty good idea:
- Test your posts
Send a new post live featuring a very popular hashtag. Have a few people who do not follow you test the content under that hashtag to see if your post shows up. If it doesn’t you might want to look a little deeper.
- Check your hashtags
One thing that Instagram has verified is that there are certain controversial hashtags that they have hidden. If you see a message under that hashtag that is being hidden, you might have used one of these selected hashtags.
- Review your Instagram insights data
If you’re suddenly seeing a huge drop in impressions engagement outside of your follower base, there is a good chance you’ve been shadowbanned.
How to Remove an Instagram Shadowban
So, you think you’ve been shadowbanned. Unfortunately, no one is exactly sure how long a shadowban has negative effects on your account. Several users have said two weeks, while others suspect it could go on for longer.
Here are some things that you can do to hopefully set things to right with your account as soon as possible.
1. Stop Any Activity That Goes Against Terms of Service
This includes using cheap engagement tactics like Instagram pods for likes, comments, and followers. Or using any kind of Instagram bot activity to automate engagement. The Instagram algorithm is hard to fool. Any apps that have dodged the crackdown on bot activity won’t be able to for long.
There’s no concrete evidence that activity like this gets you shadowbanned. But, it’s better to play it safe. At a minimum, you could have your account locked for 24-48 hours – or be shut down completely.
2. Revoke Permissions For Any Unapproved Third-Party Apps
There are a ton of apps out there that require access to your Instagram to work. Do you use an app to monitor follows and unfollows, look for hashtags or automate engagement? Bad news: these are all major no-nos.
You should only allow permissions from approved and trusted Partners of Instagram who have permission to access Instagram’s API.
Luckily, Tailwind is an Approved Instagram Partner. You can conduct hashtag research, schedule posts, plan your Instagram grid, and monitor analytics right inside our app!
See for yourself with a free trial of Tailwind for Instagram here, no credit card required.
Start a Free Trial of Tailwind for Instagram!
- Schedule photos and videos directly to your Instagram feed with Auto Post.
- Optimize every post for more engagement with SmartSchedule and Hashtag Finder.
- Automatically hide your post’s hashtags in the first comment to keep your caption clean & clutter-free.
- Make your posts more discoverable with user tagging & location tagging.
- Analyze what's working across every post and profile with smart analytics.
3. Avoid Using Banned or Restricted Hashtags
Using restricted hashtags can limit your engagement. Using these hashtags over and over again could result in your Instagram account being shut down.
Always check your hashtags carefully. Make a habit of doing a quick search before adding new hashtags to your mix to make sure they aren’t restricted.
If you do use a restricted hashtag, you can edit your post and remove just that hashtag.
No need to remove all of them – just the restricted ones!
Tailwind’s Hashtag Finder tool is great for staying on top of your hashtags. Plus, you can make sure you’re not posting restricted or banned hashtags. You can search for a good mix of hashtags related to your image, and save them into lists!
4. Reach Out to Instagram Support
Followers can’t see your feed posts or find you on the Explore page? It’s worth dropping a note to Instagram Support to see if they can review. To do this, Go to your Profile > Menu > Settings (Cog icon) > Help > Report a Problem.
Don’t mention a shadowban, just let them know your followers can’t see your posts and it’s negatively impacting your business.
5. Don’t Act Like a Bot
It’s true – posting, commenting, and liking too frequently in a short time frame will get you put in Instagram timeout. This is also true for following and unfollowing accounts rapidly.
Instagram considers this unusual engagement rate bot activity. It will put a hold on your account to prevent you from engaging for anywhere from 24 hours to 7 days!
6. Avoid Getting Reported
Reporting is one of the main ways content is flagged. Or, the algorithm might mistake your post for borderline content. Make sure you’re posting content in line with Community Guidelines. Furthermore, make sure your content is in line with your follower’s interests.
7. Take a Break From Instagram
According to most users who suspect they’ve been shadowbanned, taking a break from Instagram was the most effective fix. Avoiding the app for a few days is worth it for a fresh start!
Just remember: when you come back, proceed with caution.
Have you had any experience with shadowbanning or having your reach reduced? Let us know in the comments below! 👇
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Kristen Dahlin is the Content Marketing Manager at Tailwind — your new Marketing team, helping you create social media designs, schedule posts, and optimize across Instagram, Facebook, and Pinterest with one easy-to-use social media management tool. Kristen lives in rural Oklahoma with her husband Kyle, daughter Sophie, boxer Lila, and a very temperamental flower garden.