UPDATE 4/17: My Shadowban Has Been Lifted!
Since this article has been getting a lot of traction, I figure I should post an update on my shadowban situation. Last Thursday or Friday, my shadowban was finally removed after about three weeks. I had a hunch it was removed, as my latest post was getting a “normal” amount of engagement again, and then it was confirmed by one of the Insta-friends I’ve made thanks to this whole ordeal.
How did I fix it? To be honest, it was accidental. I was pretty fed up with Instagram and so I didn’t post any new pictures for eight days. I liked and commented and stalked Chrissy Teigen as usual, but I didn’t share any new content. And just like that, my ban was lifted. If you’re still fighting a shadowban, I would suggest taking a week-long hiatus. It worked for me!
Last week was a tough one for me, and one of the biggest reasons was I discovered I’ve been shadowbanned on Instagram. It’s a not-so-widely-discussed problem, mostly because the specifics of shadowbans are somewhat unclear, and it was super frustrating trying to figure out what was going on with my account and what I could do about it.
If you’re curious about what a shadowban is, why it happens, and what you can do about it, here’s my experience and everything I’ve learned so far.
What’s a Shadowban?
I call it a shadowban, but other people refer to these social media bans as stealth bans or ghost bans. As you might gather from those terms, this type of ban, which exists on Instagram, Twitter, Reddit and other sites, is implemented without notice.
Normally, if you get banned from Instagram, it tells you that your account has been reported (or whatever) and you can reinstate it in a week or so. With a shadowban, you won’t receive any heads up. It’s essentially a way to limit someone’s use of the site without the user knowing. As you might suspect, shadowbans, in theory, are designed to suppress spam accounts or users who violate the site’s rules.
How Do You Know If You’ve Been Shadowbanned?
OK, so if you’re not notified of the ban, how do you know one has been placed on your account? On Instagram, you’ll likely notice a stark decline in engagement, especially if you’re an avid user of hashtags. Personally, I knew something was wrong when my average likes per post dropped from around 110 down to 20. Further, most of the likes I was receiving were from users who already followed me.
If you recognize a pattern like this, you’ll want to use a “cheat” to check if you’ve been shadowbanned. To understand how to check for a shadowban, it’s important to know exactly what the ban does to your account. In simplest terms, hashtags won’t work as intended when you’re shadowbanned. You can post and hashtag all you want, but only your followers will be able to see your pictures via those hashtags. Users who aren’t following you will not see your posts on hashtag aggregation pages.
To check for a shadowban, you need a separate Instagram account or the help of a friend.
To check for a shadowban, you need a separate Instagram account or the help of a friend. Post a new picture, complete with hashtags, on your normal account, then switch over to the second account. Make sure you’ve unfollowed your original IG, then click on one of the hashtags you’ve used. Your post should show up in the “Most Recent” section of the hashtag aggregation page. If it doesn’t, you’ve been shadowbanned, my friend. Welcome to the club.
The key here is to check with an account that doesn’t follow you. If you check with your own account or an account that follows you, your post will show up as normal. Again, the site wants you to think everything is fine, even though it’s not.
Why Did I Get Shadowbanned?
Your next logical question is probably something along the lines of, “WTF?! I’m not a spammer, so why is this happening?” Same. I was able to piece together why this happened to me, and to be honest, it was partially my fault.
Earlier in the week, someone overseas tried to hack my account. The site asked if it was me trying to get in, and I clicked no. As a security precaution, Instagram then asked me to input a verification code sent to my email address… except it was an old email that I no longer have access to. To get around it, I rebooted the app, and when it asked me the same question again, I said it was me trying to log in from overseas. I proceeded to change my password and update my email address, thinking everything would be fine.
My own actions looked like a hacker taking over my account, and Instagram’s algorithms took note.
In retrospect, this behavior could very well have been a hacker taking over my account and changing the credentials. Instagram’s lovely spam-fighting algorithms took note and slapped a shadowban on my account, just in case I decided to start posting penis pictures.
While this is speculation—again, they don’t tell you anything, including why—it makes sense. Hacking is a common reason accounts are blocked, but there are plenty of other “spammy” actions that can result in a shadowban. I’ve read that people get banned for having too many IG accounts, going on mass-liking sprees, using too many hashtags, and more.
What Can You Do About a Shadowban?
In an ideal world, this would all be resolved by me contacting Instagram’s customer support. I would explain the situation, they would find some way to verify my identity, and my ban would be lifted. We would then live happily ever after.
Oh wait, Instagram doesn’t have customer support. Seriously. You can report issues through the app, but 9 times out of 10, your request will go unanswered. There is no phone number to call and no email address to write. Delightful, right?
This makes it much, much harder to cope with a shadowban. Through my research, I’ve found a few strategies you can try, though none guarantee success:
- Report Your Account as Hacked: Apparently, Instagram might respond to your in-app message if you claim you’ve been hacked. You can then prove your identity to them, and sometimes this will make your account go back to normal.
- Create a New Account: Depending on your follower count, you might be best off just starting from scratch with a new account. I actually tried this, though, and the new account was immediately shadowbanned, presumably because it was linked to my original account.
- Take a Break: Some people have reported their bans were lifted after they went on IG sabbatical for a week or more. No posting, no liking, no nothing. Again, no promises, though.
- Just Act Normal: Still other people claim that if you act normal, aka post normally and use the same hashtag strategy, the IG algorithms will figure out you’re not a spammer and remove your ban. No consensus on how long it might take, though.
My Final Thoughts on Shadowbans
This experience has been incredibly frustrating for me, and unfortunately, I still am no closer to a resolution. As an entrepreneur, I use my Instagram to connect with like-minded creatives, promote my work and find new business. My ability to do this is severely limited with a shadowban in place, and frankly, that sucks. I like Instagram! It’s fun, and I actually just created a new posting strategy that I was really excited about. Now, not so much.
On one hand, I understand why these types of bans exist and how they are, in fact, designed for the good of all users. However, I think it’s ridiculous that there is no customer support to contact when a real, genuine user mistakenly gets banned. It seems like a gross oversight, in my opinion, but it just goes to show that gargantuan social sites don’t particularly care about their individual users.