—Update January 7 2018: Some posts continue to not show up in relevant hashtag searches. However, my account has regained it’s growth momentum, which is what I cared about most. I believe That my Instagram Shadowban has been lifted—
My Instagram account has fallen victim to the infamous Instagram Shadowban. The Shadowban is when Instagram blocks your account posts from appearing in hashtag searches. The fact that I have an Instagram Business Account might be relevant. To be clear, my account was not disabled, and it was not hacked. Let me explain.
What is the Instagram Shadowban?
The difference between a blocked account and a shadowbanned account is that the former strips your access, while the latter hinders non-followers access to your Instagram page. That isn’t to say that people who don’t follow your page can’t see it if they do a direct search for your handle. But they won’t see it by searching hashtags that your posts might be tagged with. This includes all of them, from top Instagram hashtags (#funny) to the most obscure ones (#idunnowtfimdoinghere).
The history of the Shadowban goes back to 2006, because it falls under a practice called Stealth Banning. Its purpose is to block a user’s contributions in an online community without their being aware, so that the user grows frustrated and leaves the site or platform.
Specifically for Instagram, they’ve alluded to the idea that “hashtag search” could experience issues, but neglected to admit that it is a concerted manipulation on their part to penalize accounts. Instead, they revisit how to use Instagram:
If you have been shadowbanned on Instagram, there’s a way to find out.
How to find out if your Instagram account is banned to the shadows
Discover whether your Instagram account has fallen afoul of the Shadowban by searching a recent hashtag from one of your posts. Do this on a friend’s Instagram account, on their phone, and ensure they don’t follow your page. If your post does not appear in the search, it’s because your account is shadowbanned.
Another way is to use this here Shadowban Analyzer (open it in an incognito window). It will test to see if your posts show up for #hashtags cited within their respective captions. (UPDATE: this tool indicates I’m not shadowbanned, which greatly complicates my understanding of what’s happening, since I know that my following still is not growing):
It is very frustrating, and unfortunate, especially if you feel that you were wronged.
But how did this happen in the first place? I’ve scoured the internet and found that there are many different reasons why your account gets blocked. So let me go over those quickly.
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Reasons why your account might get shadowbanned
Here’s what I found might cause the ban:
- If you use software that breaks Instagram ToS. Buying followers or getting free followers on Instagram often involves third party platforms and bots like Instagress, or services that use the same platforms for an extra buck (Boostly, for example). Schedulers are also third party software that could trigger a ban. Even if you have multiple accounts, if you use software like this on one, it will affect the other if Instagram sees that use access both from a common IP.
- If you breach daily/hourly limits on content posting. Instgram applies different rate limits to account based on engagement and popularity, and who knows what other metrics. Basically, the more popular and trustworthy your account, the more activity you’re permitted. How do you find out your rate limit? I have no idea. I post once or twice a day, and I can’t imagine that’s a problem.
- If you employ shitty hashtags. There are some hashtags that trend negatively, and this could bite you in the ass if your content correlates with negative stuff. Broken tags are also detrimental, apparently. I use quirky tags because it’s funny. But that’s not what landed me a shadowban.
- If your posts get reported. Remember that your followers can report you at any time. If your posts get reported, and the reports result in removal of content, then you might get in trouble. This trouble leads to the shadowy place.
Why Instagram blocked my account
I posted this comic to Instagram:
Whether or not you agree that this comic is offensive, the subject matter is sensitive. My account was reported for this, and the comic was removed. The reason given was that it does not follow the Instagram Community Guidelines.
In a nutshell, here are the community guidelines, and a note on how my post might be affected by each. The question is: Does the comic above break the community guidelines?
- Share only photos and videos that you’ve taken or have the right to share: Check.
- Post photos and videos that are appropriate for a diverse audience: This point is entirely concerned with “nudity”. (I admire people who challenge it, but I don’t). Check.
- Foster meaningful and genuine interactions: This means no spammy content. Check.
- Follow the law: In the US, using the swastika is not illegal. In Germany it is. My account is registered in the US, but could a German account holder who sees this report it? How does Instagram handle something like this?
- Respect other members of the Instagram community: Instagram removes “creditable threats or hate speech”. If this comic was reported for containing the swastika, and if they consider the symbol alone to be hate speech, regardless of the intent and context of the comic, then this may be why the comic was removed. It’s like reporters taking quotes out of context–it might change the meaning entirely.
- Maintain our supportive environment by not glorifying self-injury: Check.
- Be thoughtful when posting newsworthy events: Check.
Does this post break community guidelines? I think the answer to the question is debatable. If you ignore the comic and just look at the symbol, then maybe. But I don’t believe it’s fair that I can’t make a point using the symbol as long as I’m not promoting hate with it. I am adamant that this does not break the community guidelines, and my Instagram account should not be blocked for it.
So I reposted the comic. And it was again removed. This was stupid, but I’m stubborn.
Results of the shadowban on my Instagram following
Some articles have discussed falling engagement as a results of the shadowban. So far, when I post a new comic, I can still see steady engagement from my followers. What has changed in the span of two days is the amount of new followers I get.
For several months I was gaining 100-200 new followers per day. Once my post was removed from Instagram, I stopped getting new followers altogether. This is in part due to the hashtag search Instagram functionality hurting my content’s placement.
Using Social Blade to track the growth in followers on Instagram, this is what I see:
The falling follower count is not a surprise. I’ve seen the same decrease in followers on my Facebook page as well. I make funny/cute comics, and disturbing ones–regularly losing followers is gonna happen–it’s just that usually the new followers pushes the balance into the positive. But it’s clear to me that Instagram has somehow put restrictions on new followers for my page.
How to lift the shadowban
I’m writing this post in the midst of the ban myself. I have yet to try anything specific, because I’ve read what others have done to lift it, but results are not significant enough to justify following suit.
Here is a quick round-up of methods to reactivate your posts’ findability through Instagram hashtag searches:
- Switch from a Business to Personal account: The ban might affect mainly business accounts, so switching to a personal account may help (your ability to use Instagram Stories might be hindered). Some people have theorized that Instagram uses the Shadowban more liberally on business accounts in order to encourage them to buy ads. I felt the same about boosting Facebook posts.
- Don’t post for several days, log out of your account: This has worked for some people.
- Deactivate your account (don’t delete it): This might work as a signal to Instagram that you’re over it. If the algorithm that maintains the shadowban can tell when you’re active, maybe this method will take you off their radar.
- Contact Instagram: The email@example.com email is no longer supported, I tried. You can contact Instagram within your account by clicking on your profile, then the cog symbol, and scroll down to “report a problem”. Click “General Feedback” or “Something isn’t working”, and let Instagram know about the problem with your hashtag search. In my case, I lobbied for recognition that my content does not betray community guidelines.
- Stop using third party automation: No more schedules, no more APIs. Turn it all off, especially if they artificially grow your following. Go into your settings and “revoke access” in permissions.
- Remove broken hashtags: I use a ton of silly unique hashtags. I’m not going to do this.
- Report your account hacked: Instagram might pay more attention to you if you report your account hacked. After all, How do you know it’s not a hack.
My interim solution is to wait. I read the first answer on this Quora post, and understand that perhaps the shadowban timed out. Perhaps there is a faster way to get my following on the rise again, but I’m not willing to stress any further about it.
How will I get more followers on Instagram again? I dunno, just wait, I suppose
I wrote this post so that anyone else experiencing the Instagram Shadowban can know that it happens, and that you can get functionality back eventually. I’m encouraged by everything I’ve read online–I didn’t find any instances of this being a permanent penalty. I understand why Instagram uses this tactic to police accounts. There are 800 million users on Instagram right now, so they have to patrol their channel programmatically since it’s unrealistic to manually approve all the content. Sure it’s a bummer that some of my followers reported my comic, but hopefully they stopped following me altogether because if one thing is true, it’s that I won’t let misguided censorship affect my art.
I’ll update this article again once something changes. In the meantime, spread the word, tell other readers your Instagram blocked account story below in the comments, and just be patient.
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Other articles you might be interested in:
- When You Accidentally Plagiarize Content
- Interview with Sarah Andersen
- Creating Comics that are Open to Interpretation
- How to Bring Instagram Followers to Your Website
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