A comprehensive guide to shadow banning, including what it is and how to avoid it. Here’s what you need to know about online censorship.
As the sun sets on unfettered social media discourse, a new twilight phenomenon is taking center stage. Shadow banning is a cryptic practice that, much like an eclipse, obscures a user’s digital presence on various online platforms, leaving them in a state of uncertainty and obscurity.
Join us on an enlightening journey to understand shadow banning. We’ll shed light on what this emerging form of censorship means and its telltale signs and implications. We’ll also discuss the proactive steps you can take to keep your voice heard online.
What is shadow banning? 👤
So, is shadow banning real? The short answer is yes. Shadow banning, also known as stealth banning or ghost banning, is a covert disciplinary measure used by social media platforms. Instead of directly informing users and content creators they’ve been banned or restricted, the networks subtly make these users’ posts invisible to others. Banned users can continue posting and interacting, oblivious to the fact that their contributions are falling on digital deaf ears.
The rationale behind shadow banning on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and other social media networks is simple — they want to prevent spammers and rule-breakers from circumventing the ban and creating new accounts. Maintaining the illusion of regular activity keeps these digital disruptors in the dark, muting their disruptive behavior without triggering a potentially endless cycle of evasion.
What is shadow banning on TikTok? 📹
Shadow banning on this platform typically occurs as a response to users violating TikTok’s community guidelines. Violations include not adhering to copyright laws with the music you use to get more video views or posting inappropriate content to make more money. TikTok has never openly admitted to shadow banning.
How to know if you’ve been shadow banned 🌑
The covert nature of shadow banning makes it challenging to confirm, but there are several signs to look out for that may suggest you’re being censored. Remember that while these signs can indeed indicate a shadow ban, they can also occur in response to algorithm changes or general decreased interest in your content. It’s critical to investigate thoroughly before drawing a conclusion.
Here are a few ways to know if your account is being censored:
- Lack of engagement. A sudden, unexplained drop in likes, comments, and shares on your posts may indicate shadow banning. If your typical audience interaction dwindles abruptly, your content might not appear in their feeds.
- Hashtags aren’t working. If your social media posts aren’t showing up under the hashtags you’ve used, this might be a sign of shadow banning. Typically, a post should appear in the “recent” section of the hashtag you used when you search for it, but a shadow ban prevents this.
- Restricted reach. Another indication of shadow banning is if your content isn’t reaching a broad audience. Check your insights or analytics to see where your engagement is coming from — is it only from your immediate followers?
- Followers aren’t increasing. If your follower count has flatlined despite continued posting and engagement, this could be due to a shadow ban. Potential new followers might not see your content in their feeds, stopping them from following you.
Websites that use shadow bans 💻
The practice of shadow banning is cloaked in a veil of deniability, with most platforms either remaining silent on the subject or outright denying it. That said, evidence suggests that several major social media sites use this technique in different ways. As mentioned, always remember that signs of shadow banning may also occur due to algorithmic changes.
Below are platforms that reportedly use shadow banning and some signs to look for on each:
While the CEO of Instagram claims that the network doesn’t shadow ban, users have reported their posts not appearing under the hashtags they’ve used, resulting in decreased engagement. To find out if you’re the target of an Instagram shadowban, search “instagram.com @<your user name>” in an incognito browser — if your account pops up, you’re in the clear. You can also review your metrics on Instagram Insights — if your reach severely declines, you’re selling substantially less, or if you don’t appear on the Explore page, you may be shadow banned.
Twitter’s relationship with shadow banning is a bit complicated. According to this social network, they don’t shadow ban based on ideologies or politics, but they rank tweets and search results according to whether or not they think a user is a spammer. Add a profile picture and email address to your account to avoid shadow banning on Twitter.
To find out whether you’ve been shadow banned, log out of Twitter and navigate to an incognito browser. Go to twitter.com/explore and search for your user name. If you find it, you’re not being censored!
As noted above, this platform is said to shadow ban accounts that violate its community guidelines. Users have reported their content receiving fewer views or not appearing on the For You page. Check your video views and where they’re coming from to help determine whether you’ve been censored on this platform. You can also review your For You page statistics and check if your posts are showing up under the hashtags you’re using.
Facebook’s moderation policy — “remove, reduce, and inform” — means it often removes content that violates its community standards. To find out if you’ve been shadow banned, check your post reach and engagement through Facebook Insights. A sudden drop in reach or impressions may mean you’re being censored.
How to avoid being shadow banned 🚩
When it comes to shadow banning, every platform has its own standards for determining which actions warrant censoring. There are certainly general trends to be noted, but which types of posts are acceptable according to content moderation guidelines varies from TikTok to Instagram, Twitter, and beyond. While the exact mechanisms behind shadow banning are elusive, especially with many platforms not openly admitting to the practice, there are several best practices you can adopt to minimize the risk.
If you don’t want to get shadowbanned, here’s what to do:
- Follow community guidelines. Regarding online behavior, every platform has its own set of rules designed to foster a safe and respectful environment. Stay within these guidelines to keep your account in good standing with moderators.
- Engage with your followers. Genuine interaction with your audience signals that your account isn’t spammy. To look authentic, respond to comments, like followers’ posts, and engage in discussion.
- Use relevant hashtags. Did you know that using banned hashtags or overusing popular hashtags can trigger spam filters? Instead, add specific hashtags that reflect the content of your posts. This helps avoid potential spam flags and gets your content in front of the right audience.
- Avoid rapid-fire actions. Quick, repetitive actions like following or unfollowing many accounts in a short period do not look good! Pace yourself to prevent looking like a bot and appear more human.
- Don’t repost content or post inappropriate content. The social algorithms can be picky — to stay in their good graces, avoid posting the same content repeatedly. The same goes for hate speech, misinformation, nudity, or illegal content.
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A fascinating form of censorship, shadow banning is social media’s answer to trolls, and it’s not an insurmountable obstacle. While it has the potential to hinder meaningful online engagement, and its influence can be significant, a clear understanding of the telltale signs and a commitment to adhering to best practices is all you need to (likely) avoid it. Your voice is essential, and if you equip yourself with the correct knowledge and strategy, you’ll find a path through the shadows. If you’re an independent social media manager, join Contra. Our commission-free platform has everything you need to promote your freelance social media marketing services. We’ll connect you with clients who value your skills and help you manage your business, from landing jobs to navigating contracts and payments.
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