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What is Shadowbanning & How to Avoid It

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Social media has become all about algorithms.  Whether you’re chasing followers, likes, swipes, or fame you can end up under the thumb of the algorithm. The issue is: what if the algorithm decides not to share your posts? What if people can’t find your profile, see your photos or read your posts? When something like this happens, it’s possible you could be shadowbanned. 

Like the name suggests, you’re banned but in the shadows basically — you’re banned and no one has bothered to tell you. Sadly it has nothing to do with vampires like in What We Do In the Shadows. That’d be a lot more entertaining.   

Also called ghost banning, comment ghosting, and stealth banning, this strategy has its roots in old Internet forums. But it has become more common on social media now that social networks are using tech to comb content for problematic behavior, cyberbullying, and sexual content.  

This is a way for a website, app, or social media network to have more control over its community without overtly alienating users. But this is also the way a social media network can limit certain topics, subjects, and accounts. It’s an imperfect system but these sites have to manage millions of users.

This ban can make it so your account is no longer visible in search or make your posts harder to find. In today’s rich influencer market and given how many businesses use social media, this can take a financial toll. 

Social media algorithms have become a hot topic in the wake of the Facebook whistleblowers

Suddenly, the problematic nature of the algorithms running our lives has gotten on the political radar. After all, those algorithms can leave you stuck with repeating content on your feed, irrelevant ads, or posts from the same annoying cousins you keep trying to avoid. 

What are the reasons you could be shadowbanned?

No social media network is going to admit they’re shadow banning their users. But certain types of content, posts, or behavior can get flagged by the algorithm. Certain topics, links you share, or photos can violate the site or network’s terms of service or community guidelines. 

You can get shadow-banned for sharing copyrighted, adult, or inflammatory content. This can all violate Community guidelines. Community guidelines are in place to keep the peace and avoid some of the more intense conflicts of the past few years. After all, social media has played very heavily into not just the Capitol Hill insurrection but international conflicts, as well. 

Sadly, many of these comments are flagged by technology, then reviewed by moderators. But there’s also no telling if these moderators understand you may be kidding. They may not even be in your country. Facebook has even admitted that it scans your chats on its Messenger app for problematic content. So you may not necessarily know what got you the ban.

You may say something edgy that could be perceived as a threat, abuse, or in violation of these guidelines. Given both Facebook and Instagram are owned by Meta you’ll want to ensure you follow the community guidelines or you could run the risk of getting the ban on both networks. 

You can also get dinged if you post a photo with nudity or post information that’s flagged by fact-checkers. You can even get shadowbanned for using a banned hashtag.

Wait, some hashtags are banned? 

Instagram has a list of hashtags that can result in a shadowban. The irony is that they’re not all adult-themed, political, or controversial. This list of banned hashtags includes hashtags like #happythanksgiving #americangirl and #adulting. 

Additionally, certain spammy behaviors can trigger a shadowban. After all, the algorithms are looking for potential spambots, scammers, or people negatively impacting the community. Using a lot of the same hashtags on Instagram, posting the same link multiple times, adding too many new accounts, or sending too many DMs can get you on the naughty list. 

How can you tell you’ve been shadowbanned?

It’s not always easy to tell you’ve been shadowbanned. That’s kind of the point. The idea is that your engagement drops so you post more infrequently then eventually just stop altogether.

One way to tell if you’ve been shadowbanned is if you make a new post and use a hashtag and you simply don’t show up on that hashtag’s feed. You’ll want to ask a friend or colleague to check that page to see if your post populates. You may also want to ask someone who’s not following you to get a clearer picture of how and where you show up on the site or app. 

Another way to tell you’ve been shadowbanned is if certain functionality is unavailable. Now you do have to hit certain follower counts to be able to unlock certain functionality. For example, you can’t go Live on TikTok until you have one thousand followers. But, if normal functionality suddenly stops working it can be part of the ban. 

If your account is Restricted or you’re in “social media jail” you can be shadowbanned. When Facebook introduced its Community Standards after the banning of a certain former President, they were swift with enacting warnings, restrictions, and temporary bans. If you’ve been to “Facebook jail” this can affect your account status. 

How to avoid being shadowbanned? 

To avoid being shadowbanned be sure to honor the community guidelines and user agreement. Be kind in interactions and avoid posting anything that might be too edgy or salacious because the moderators or algorithm could misread your content. Sometimes you can get flagged even for joking with friends so beware. 

You’ll want to avoid posting anything that might get flagged as adult content because certain artwork, photos, or links can violate community guidelines. While some websites do allow adult content, this still can prevent you from showing up in searches and restrict your visibility. 

When marketing, temper your posts so they aren’t too spammy. Too many of the same hashtags, links, messages or DMs can mimic the behavior of spambots. 

Shadowbanning has become a new part of social media culture. Social networks and apps want to have a positive user experience so bullying, inappropriate content, incorrect information, and excessive marketing are not welcome. But if you do get shadowbanned, worry not. Try taking a break for a few days and see if the ban gets lifted. After all, the social network doesn’t want to lose you altogether.

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