We've all heard of the infamous shadowban on Instagram. Suddenly someone's account is getting zero comments and minimal likes compared to numbers in the thousands before the shadowban. Or a creator shares that their followers are reporting that they can't share the creator's post to their Instagram story - another form of a shadowban. But here's the catch - Instagram claims that there is no such thing as a "shadowban". Let's break down the myth, and learn what we can all do to keep our accounts from falling into the Instagram shadows.
Have Shadowbans Actually Happened?
While Instagram never uses the word "shadowban", it's undeniable that accounts have suddenly had their reach slashed, with the only explanation being Instagram's internal algorithm. A great example of a shadowban is explained in the video below. Tabitha Brown posted a video on April 13th expressing her heart and sadness about police brutality. Later that day, her post wasn't being found on her follower's Instagram feeds or Explore pages. Even worse - when her followers attempted to share her video to their Instagram story, it would get stuck on the loading pinwheel. After a massive movement by her followers, Instagram fixed the "glitch" a day later on April 14th.
But here's the question? Why was the video shadowbanned in the first place? Instagram never directly responded to Tabitha, and it rarely does respond to specific accounts. Often after a "glitch" that affects a major creator, Instagram will respond with a general answer (ex. below in response to a shadowban on activist/actress Marika Sila).
We really wish that Instagram would be more transparent with its responses, but unfortunately this is all we get - responses about "technical issues" and "bugs".
Check out the excerpt below from Instagram's Help Page explaining why some posts are removed from the Explore page and hashtag pages.
Why are certain posts on Instagram not appearing in Explore and hashtag pages?
Instagram has Community Guidelines that define what's allowed in order to keep Instagram an authentic and safe place for inspiration and expression. If we're made aware of a post that goes against our Community Guidelines, we'll remove it from Instagram.
While some posts on Instagram may not go against our Community Guidelines, they might not be appropriate for our global community, and we'll limit those types of posts from being recommended on Explore and hashtag pages. For example, a sexually suggestive post will still appear in Feed if you follow the account that posts it, but this type of content may not appear for the broader community in Explore and hashtag pages.
We're working to ensure that the content we recommend is both safe and appropriate for our community, and that means we're stricter about what content is recommended to people on Explore and hashtag pages.
Keep in mind:
Not all posts or accounts are eligible to be surfaced in Explore and hashtag pages. We use a variety of signals, for example, if an account has recently gone against our Community Guidelines, to determine which posts and accounts can be recommended to the community.
If you see a post on a hashtag page or Explore that you think goes against our Community Guidelines, you can report it to us so we can take a closer look. If a post goes against our Community Guidelines, we'll remove it from Instagram.
Learn more about why certain hashtags aren't searchable.
That explains some things, but it still feels pretty vague. Luckily, we do know some things you can avoid doing that will help your account stay safe from a shadowban. While Instagram hasn't claimed that these actions directly cause a shadowban, they have said that these actions can be flagged as against Community Guidelines.
How to Avoid a Shadowban
Here are actions that will quickly take your account out of Instagram's good graces and into a shadowban:
Violate Instagram's Community Guidelines or post content that is inappropriate for the Instagram community at large. (ex. if you share sexually suggestive content, it will still be shown to people who opt to follower you, but it won't be pushed to the explore page)
Buy fake engagement or use bots to engage for your account.
Post the same comment on multiple posts in a short amount of time, use over 30 hashtags on a single post, or follow/unfollow too many people within an hour.
Use an extremely popular hashtag while it is trending, as Instagram can flag this as spammy activity.
Use banned hashtags. Click here for a list.
Here are things you should keep in mind that will keep your account safe:
Don't use a non Instagram approved program to post, like, or comment on your accounts behalf. Here is a list of Instagram approved partners.
Don't use broken or banned hashtags. Kind of obvious, but needs restated.
Be careful about doing an extreme amount of Instagram activity in a short amount of time. For example liking and commenting on a ton of posts in a short amount of time, or following/unfollowing a lot of accounts in an hour. Instagram will flag this as bot activity.
Don't post the same comment or send the same DM to multiple accounts in a short amount of time. This will be flagged as spam by Instagram.
Because Instagram has never fully claimed that shadowbans exist, it's hard to nail down exactly how to avoid them. Our best advice? If it feels like you're cheating to get your engagement or followers, you're definitely breaking Instagram's Community Guidelines and you might be on your way towards a shadowban. Don't break the Community Guidelines and most likely, your account will be fine.
If your account posts content about social justice and world issues, you might risk the chance of being shadowbanned because Instagram's algorithm is really bad at telling the difference between content that is actually harmful and content that is highlighting harm that has been done to a community. Don't stop sharing your content because you're worried about a shadowban! Instagram CEO Adam Mosseri says Instagram is working on this very issue by "diving deeper into algorithmic bias and how to may affect Instagram's products". Recently in 2021, Mosseri wrote that “we haven’t always done enough to explain why we take down content when we do, what is recommendable and what isn’t, and how Instagram works more broadly.” We hope to see progress on this from Instagram, but only time will tell.