How social media silences you without your knowing
If you haven’t yet heard of the Instagram shadow ban, prepare yourself for a trip down this rabbit hole.
What is a shadow ban? A shadow ban, also known as stealth banning, comment ghosting, and ghost banning, is a way of excluding a person from an online community (app, chat group, platform, etc.) without that person finding out. It’s sort of like making sure that someone’s virtual invitation to a party got “lost in the mail.” The shadow ban is Instagram’s way of censoring content without making a scene. Instead of kicking users off Instagram or chastising them for inappropriate content, Instagram will shadow ban them by making their posts unsearchable within the hashtag used. And Instagram won’t tell that user that they have been shadow banned. Meaning that if someone on the shadow ban list where to post, for instance, a picture of a waffle with the hashtag #brunch, that photo would not appear when other users searched #brunch.
You’ll remember from our hashtags blog post, Hashtags 101, the use of hashtags is vital for people who want to expand their follower base as they allow people who don’t already follow them to find their content. If their posts aren’t coming up within a hashtag that they used, then their growth has effectively been stunted as potential new followers will not be able to find them. This is especially detrimental if you are an influencer who relies on reaching a mass of people outside of your direct followers’ pool. Because Instagram doesn’t alert the user who has been shadow banned, an influencer may receive a sharp decline in the number of likes they receive on posts without warning. Essentially, it is bad for their business.
Before you feel poorly for influencers who have received Instagram’s cold shoulder, let’s talk about how someone would become shadow banned. The shadow ban was created as a means of regulating and improving the Instagram experience. To get on the shadow ban, you have to be abusing your Instagram account in some way. This could be by posting something grossly inappropriate, or it could be by shamelessly using trending hashtags that are not relevant to your content just so you can reach a larger audience.
So, what are the take-a-ways? Shadow bans may sound like they are Ray Ban knock-offs, but really, they’re just a way of keeping the internet tidy in a non-confrontational manner. To stay off the shadow ban, just don’t do anything absurd. If you get on the shadow ban, you may want to consider forming a group with people who have similar Instagram accounts as you so that you all can like/ comment on each other’s posts to help drum up attention.
Jon Pfeiffer is an experienced entertainment and copyright trial attorney practicing in Santa Monica. Jon is also an adjunct professor at Pepperdine University in Malibu, California where he teaches Media Law. COM 570 covers First Amendment issues as well as copyright, defamation and privacy.