For influencer marketing managers, getting hit with a dreaded “shadow ban” is just as scary as the foreboding name might suggest. Not only will it effectively silence your creators’ content, but if you’re not paying close attention, you might not even notice until irreparable damage has already been done to your campaign.
Fortunately, there are plenty of signs of a shadow ban if you know what to look for. And by knowing exactly what can trigger the penalty on each social network, you can be sure to avoid the headache before it manifests into something far more severe.
Shadow banning is when a user is blocked or partially blocked on social media. The penalty is different from simply booting a user from an online community. When shadow banned, the affected user can still access the community and leave comments, but the user’s posts will not be visible to anyone else accessing the site.
The goal of shadow banning is to discourage the banned user from visiting the site after their engagement drastically dips. It is also an effective method to silence spammers and clean up an online community from bots or users who aren’t in the community for its intended purposes.
While shadow banning has evolved into a trend found exclusively on social media, its roots date back as early as the 1970s. The early days of online gaming began on multi-user dungeons (MUDs) which offered players a virtual, text-based world where they could set up Dungeons and Dragons-style competitions in real time.
Trolling was common in these communities the same way it is in the current digital landscape. But instead of a shadow ban, moderators turned undesirable players into “toads” (literally, in the context of the game) that were still a part of the landscape but virtually invisible to other players.
Shadow banning, as it is known today, came about in the 1980s and ‘90s with the rise of bulletin board systems (BBS). These systems ran software that allowed users to log into a system that essentially operated as a massive message board. Certain users possessed various administrative powers, including “twit bit privileges.” These privileges allowed admins to flag harmful users as “twits,” which enabled them to continue reading public discussions but eliminated their visibility from the rest of the group.
Rich Kyanka, the creator of Something Awful forums, said his site moderators coined the term “shadow ban” in 2001. “We would use it as a joke and only do it to people who were intentionally trying to troll others,” Kyanka said in an interview with Vice News. “None of the moderators used it very often, and we got rid of it within a year, replacing it with simply banning the person.”
Regardless of whether its intention was serious or not, shadow banning has taken on a life of its own over the years. If not addressed immediately and effectively, shadow banning could be the kiss of death for your influencer marketing campaign.
A shadow ban will cause your influencers’ follow counts and engagement rates to plummet. It will also cause their content not to appear in hashtags and essentially silence the voice that can be so critical to the growth of your brand. Frankly, a silent influencer is virtually useless to your campaign, so make sure to catch warning signs early to minimize the inevitable damage a shadow ban will cause your program.
Most TikTok users spend their time on the platform’s “For You” page (FYP). This page features a constant flow of videos curated to a user’s interests, making it easy for them to find content and new creators posting material that falls within their scope of interest.
A shadow ban will cause creators not to show up on a FYP. Creators might not immediately know if they are absent from the page, but a sudden drop in engagement and/or followers is a huge indicator.
Another way to discover whether or not you have been shadow banned is to create a unique hashtag that no one else is using. Search the hashtag after you have made a post with it. If it doesn’t show any results, there is a high chance you have been shadow banned.
TikTok will not hesitate to shadow ban—or even permanently ban—users for posting content it deems inappropriate. Examples of inappropriate content include:
TikTok will also flag accounts that spam or appear to be bots. The best way to avoid this is not to follow too many accounts in a given day, even though the method might be effective for gaining new followers.
There is really no tried-and-true method when it comes to lifting a TikTok shadow ban. Fortunately, most users report that their ban doesn’t last much longer than about two weeks.
The best use of that time is to go through your feed and clean up any content the platform could deem inappropriate. The posts where engagement and/or follower count begins to drop are a good place to start.
Instagram prides itself on promoting authentic content and won’t hesitate to ban users who don’t uphold the same values. If you have recently noticed a dip in followers and/or engagement, consider using Instagram Insights to take a deeper look at the data to find out when and where a shadow ban might have occurred. But remember that to do this, you’ll need to have a business or creator account.
You can also use an approach similar to the hashtag method mentioned above. Make sure you are checking the hashtag search results from an account that doesn’t follow the account in question. If you find the post this way, you can rest assured your issue isn’t a shadow ban.
Instagram is working to clean up the swarm of comment section bots that arrive seconds after a piece of content is posted. Make sure you aren’t using bots anywhere in your Instagram strategy, and consider removing any of your followers you suspect could be fake accounts.
Hashtags are a great way to expand your reach on Instagram, but using them carelessly can get you banned. Creators should shoot to keep hashtags in the single digits and stay up to date on banned hashtags to avoid tripping Instagram’s authentic content alarm bells.
Buying followers is the last trigger to consider when it comes to Instagram shadow bans. A high engagement rate is essential for a successful Instagram influencer, so this method won’t do you much good anyway.
Start by reviewing Instagram’s community guidelines before you do anything. If you have been shadow banned, there is a good chance you’ve violated one or more of these guidelines without even realizing it.
Then go back through your posts and clean up any content that might not align with the guidelines. This includes bot activity, excessive hashtags, banned hashtags, or illegal content.
In addition, you can reach out to Instagram through its support page. Let them know what problems you are experiencing and ask if there is anything you can do to make your account reach the highest level of compliance with the platform’s guidelines.
If none of these options work, consider shutting down the app for a few days. A suspected shadow ban will often take care of itself in under a week.
Shadow bans are fairly common on Facebook and can happen to just about anyone. Sometimes these shadow bans are implemented by mistake, but it is important to ensure you are actually affected by one before you begin to take steps to correct it.
To do this, simply post to your feed and ask someone you know if they can view it. If they can’t, you have likely been shadow banned.
Before becoming Meta, Facebook unveiled its “remove, reduce, and inform” strategy in 2016 meant to cut down on content the platform sees as problematic. The policy aims to “remove content that violates its policies, reduce the spread of problematic content that does not violate its policies, and inform people with additional information so they can choose what to click, read, or share.”
In other words, content that violates Meta’s community standards will get you booted from the platform. Content that doesn’t violate the community standards but is still seen as problematic (like misinformation and clickbait) will greatly reduce your reach.
Since Meta also owns Instagram, the platforms share many of the same qualifications for a shadow ban. This means no banned hashtags, bot behavior, or general disrespect for other users.
Similar to TikTok and Instagram, no one action can get a shadow ban lifted every time, but reaching out to Facebook for guidance on why you might be having problems is as good a bet as any. A representative from Meta will audit your page for you if you contact advertising support regarding your ad account, if you have one.
Like the other platforms on our list, a sudden drop in engagement and following on YouTube is a good indicator you are experiencing a shadow ban. The methods for confirming your shadow ban are similar, as well.
Post some new content with hashtags and keywords that are as specific as possible. Then search the content from a separate account. If the content is visible, your engagement decrease is happening naturally, and you can start workshopping ways to get it back to where it needs to be.
Your YouTube shadow ban is likely due to violating the platform’s community guidelines and policies. YouTube is fairly strict in a number of areas, including:
The first thing you should do is report the issue to the YouTube support team. Follow the steps, and a team member will contact you via email to explain the issue you’re facing and offer advice on how to resolve it. In the meantime, go back through your content and make necessary tweaks after familiarizing yourself with YouTube’s policies.
If you notice your stream’s viewers and engagements have become suspiciously low, you can take the following steps to help determine if your account has been shadow banned.
Twitch does everything it can to promote a friendly and positive experience for its community. As such, it expects users to interact safely while using its platform. A suspension or shadow ban can occur if users violate its community guidelines, which all users should review before streaming.
There have also been reports of Twitch shadow banning users for accessing the platform using a VPN. Because these devices make it difficult to crack down on users who violate its community guidelines, Twitch often makes a point to extract these users from the conversation before they have an opportunity to do so.
Like other platforms, there is no tried-and-true method for reversing a Twitch shadow ban. Following the community guidelines and not using a VPN are the easiest ways to avoid issues. However, if you still find yourself mysteriously banned, the best course of action is to contact support via Twitch’s website or @TwitchSupport on Twitter.
Reddit moved away from its somewhat confusing shadow banning policy in 2015. Now, the platform alerts its users in the event of a ban. These bans can last a few days or permanently, but Reddit is very transparent about penalizing accounts and will message your account when a ban occurs.
Reddit has some overarching guidelines users should follow, but specific reasons for a ban generally vary depending on the community guidelines in each individual subreddit. You can check out this post from u/cojoco in r/ShadowBan for a comprehensive list of what could get you banned or shadow banned from the platform.
There are two ways to go about lifting a ban or shadow ban on Reddit:
A shadow-banned Pinterest account will experience a sharp and sudden decrease in impressions. Pinterest Analytics is a great resource to view your metrics over time to help determine if your account has been affected.
Pinterest will shadow ban accounts it deems “spammy” or inauthentic. Here are a few simple steps to consider to ensure you don’t fall into that trap:
Pinterest accounts that get caught in the platform’s “spam filter” generally get released within a few days at the most. However, if you wish to appeal your shadow ban, you can reach out to the Pinterest Help Desk to make your case with someone from the support team.
After some controversy in 2018, Twitter made an official blog post claiming it does not shadow ban users on the platform. It does, however, rank certain users lower on its search feature depending on the nature of their content.
So, how can you tell if your content ranks lower than it should on Twitter?
The best approach is to open an incognito browser and type your information into Twitter’s search engine. If your username or content does not readily appear, chances are you have done something to elicit a lower ranking on the platform.
According to Twitter, Tweets “from bad-faith actors who intend to manipulate or divide the conversation should be ranked lower.” The goal of the lower ranking is to help the platform “build the basis of its work around serving healthy conversation.”
Some of the signals Twitter uses to determine “bad-faith” actors include:
If you suspect your Twitter account has been shadow banned or hit with a lower ranking than deserved, the best thing you can do is log off for a few days. If the problem persists, your best bet is to reach out to Twitter’s support team and see if there is anything you can do to remedy the situation.
A shadow ban might just be a minor inconvenience for the average social media user, but one of these unexpected and often easy-to-miss penalties could severely damage your influencer marketing program if not immediately addressed. Social media and influencer managers must keep a close watch for any sudden loss of engagement, followers, or any other red flags that might indicate a shadow ban and step in to fix the problems before it’s too late.
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