Well, Well, Well. If you’ve arrived here, that means you’re just learning about the mysterious Shadowban that Instagram has been secretly rolling out into their algorithm the past year or you’ve become a victim of it and are mildly freaking out. I can almost hear the echoes of curse words resonating from thousands of users right now wondering just how epically screwed they are. Social media is a game of users vs platform, each trying to best the other in financial gain. With each new marketing platform, there will always be new methods in trying to game the system in your advantage. If you’re a small business owner, using social media can be both extremely rewarding and mindbogglingly frustrating at the same time. Just when you think you have it figured it out, the rules change again, and everyone scrambles to reinvent a new way to get the upper hand.
What is the Instagram Shadowban?
It is a restriction placed on your Instagram account and/or posts that limits your visibility on the platform by prohibiting your content from being posted on the hashtags you specify. Effectively, if you publish a post with hashtags, only yourself and your followers will see that post in the hashtag results. Anyone else will not see your content. This is an attempt by Instagram to punish users who they perceive are violating their Terms of Service. It is most likely algorithm based and not directly monitored by support staff. The best part? They do not notify you that your account or posts have been flagged by the algorithm.
What causes you to be Shadowbanned?
There can be several reasons, but I’ll cover the more popular ones. Many of these are common sense, but currently there is one reason that is the biggest one so far that is making people scramble.
- Using apps and websites that automate your Instagram activity is by far the the most popular reason currently. 2016 was the Rise of the Bots for social media. Several iPhone/android apps started popping up that would let you buy Likes and Comments. A few website services also started up that automated following, unfollowing, commenting, and liking users and posts. The most popular one of these is the now defunct Instagress service. For a mere $80/year, this bot would slave away for you 24/7 while you enjoyed getting back to doing what you most loved, actual photography. Pretty awesome ROI, imagine what hiring a full time worker would cost to do the same amount of account management. The problem here is that this directly violates Instagram’s Terms of Service. Which isn’t what Instrgam actually cares about, to be honest. This was never about their Terms of Service, but more about advertising revenue into their coffers. Instagram/Facebook wants you to buy marketing ads to reach new followers and boost your engagement. So once they saw their advertising revenue increasingly drop the past year, they started to take aim at the bot network. And, well, all the users who used them too.
- Using prohibited or banned hashtags in a post. Mostly hashtags that have perceived offensive nature to them, like curse words or other adult language. No potty mouth in the public sphere apparently. The best part? If you use the 30 max limit of hashtags, and ONE of them is on this list of banned hashtags, then it renders you invisible for all the other hashtags as well. So be careful of what you use.
- Using all the same hashtags always forever and forever until the end of time. Instagram, being the massive control freaks that they are, wants you to be more specific overtime you post, and not stamp all the posts with the same tags every time. So mix it up. Have a list of 100 tags and alternate them depending on relevancy.
- Too much activity. If you act like a spammer, then you’ll get treated as such, even if you are legitimately sitting at your computer or iPhone actually commenting, liking and following users wit true intentions. Remember, its an algorithm. So if you accidentally trick the algorithm into thinking your a spam bot, its going to react like you are. Keep your activity down to what a reasonable person would do. 30 – 60 minutes per day of activity, spread out across multiple tags. Don’t go on activity sprees, like following and liking 200 users in an hour. Don’t follow users then unfollow them the next day. Don’t like every comment ever posted on your account. If you’re commenting on a post, make it relevant, instead of a clapping hand emoji and “Nice!” Instagram’s algorithm uses many factors when determining if your account is “high volume”.
- You’ve been reported by other users for violating TOS (copyright infringement, spamming, adult content etc). Instagram makes it VERY easy for users to do this, and there are many users out there with a zero tolerance policy, so if you’re using automation services, it probably won’t take long to get reported.
- Inappropriate Content. This is probably the most common sense one, as social media platforms love censorship and protecting the world against nipples and butts. If you’re a boudoir photographer, watch out. I’ve personally seen a few friends of mine get outright banned and shutdown by accidentally posting even the tiniest bit of nudity.
- Who knows what else. Instagram is constantly updating and revising their TOS, so what is valid today could be a reason that is integrated into their algorithm tomorrow or next year. Your best bet is to keep a watchful eye in the industry and regularly check your account (monthly) to seee if you have a ban in place.
How do I fix the Shadowban and get my account back to normal?
First, you need to determine if your account or your posts are being Shadowbanned. Thankfully, there’s a nifty little site now that will test your account and posts! Lots of great resources here as well to read up on.
You should test not only your account but a few posts as well. As a fun exercise, if you discover you have been shadowbanned, you can go back through all your posts one by one and figure out exactly when your account was banned. I’ve talked a few users who realized they have been banned for 9 months and during that time none of their hashtags were working.
If you discover you’ve been banned, here’s some steps you can try to mitigate the collateral damage and restore your account back to normal.
- Stop all automation websites and services obviously. But also, go into your settings and revoke access permission of that app from the Instagram API. This means revoking services that also monitor and provide analytics, such as Iconosquare. Do not have any apps connected to your Instagram account, at least until you can reset your account.
- Take a break from Instagram for a week. Zero activity. Don’t even open the app and login. Some users have reported that this helps reset your account.
- After a period of non-usage, try and get back into a healthy normal habit of activity. Like an old man easing into a hot bath. Post an image first, then do a few likes and comments, maybe follow a few accounts. Nothing egregious that would signal your activity looks like a spammer to their algorithm. Remember, its not support staff manually monitoring and banning accounts. Ironically, its their own Bot doing the grunt work.
- Try using a mix of different hashtags every time you post going forward, and try using them in the captions instead of the comments. Don’t max out the guidelines (30 tags to a post). Keep it reasonable. With every new post, test to see if its been shadow banned or not, then wait 24 hours and test again.
- Some users have reported trying to contact Instagram Support staff to resolve the problem. Don’t waste your time. They have reportedly been utterly useless. Instead, as a last ditch effort, you can try and report that your account was hacked, by filling out the form from the app.
- DELETE ALL SOCIAL MEDIA ACCOUNTS AND GO ENJOY YOUR NEW LIFE FREE OF WORRY. Yeah I know, I wish I could too.
This is all still pretty new territory and Instagram has only put out a tiny official blurb quasi-acknowledging the mysterious shadow banning of users, so I’ll update as things unfold.