Influencer Agency Guides

What Is Shadow Banning and Is It Real?

Jun 27, 2023 | By Chris Jacks

Social media has become a must for any brand or influencer looking to boost online presence, audience, and growth. Building that engagement and following doesn’t happen overnight – but losing it could happen in a flash.

In recent months, Instagram and TikTok users have found themselves in just that situation. Seemingly overnight, all of their content seemed to vanish off the face of the internet – the shadow ban.

Shadow banning mostly occurs on Instagram, but it can happen on any platform. It’s very real, but fortunately, it can be fixed.

What Is a Shadow Ban?

A shadow ban is the act of hiding or restricting a user’s content without informing them that it happened – similar to users blocking others. It doesn’t become apparent until the blocked user tries to search for content.

It’s important to note that shadow bans are not the same as dark posting, despite a similar name. The latter is a beneficial influencer marketing tactic to optimize content. 

With a shadow ban, the affected user’s content doesn’t appear in anyone’s feed, hashtag pages, or newsfeed for new users. Only the current followers can see it, which significantly limits reach.

Shadow bans usually happen when a user has violated the community guidelines or the content was flagged as inappropriate for whatever reason. From a platform perspective, hiding inappropriate content is a smart move, but going about it via shadowban has received some criticism.

What’s the Purpose of a Shadow Ban?

Shadow banning allows the platform to filter out accounts and content that violate the community guidelines. For example, influencers who rely on inauthentic measures to expand their following, such as purchasing followers or likes, may be shadow banned because the platform wants to promote only genuine and valuable content.

Though platforms don’t openly acknowledge shadow banning, Instagram released a statement on the Facebook business page in 2019 addressing the problem of content disappearing under certain hashtags. The statement was oblique but seems to point to shadow banning as a real practice.

Shadow banning does happen, but that’s not always the reason behind a sudden drop in visibility and engagement. These platforms adjust algorithms all the time, so that could lead to a drop in the engagement rate.

However, users who violate community guidelines could face shadow banning. If they don’t act, their content can quickly disappear among the more visible posts.

How to Identify a Shadow Ban

Users with a professional account on social media platforms can determine if content is being recommended. For example, Instagram has an Account Status feature, which allows users to view if the content posted violated any recommended guidelines.

It’s simple to check. Users only need to navigate to Menu, Settings, Account, and Account Status to see if anything is affecting the account. Instagram also offers suggestions to correct any issues that show up.

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Source: Twitter

There are some other ways to test a shadow ban, such as:

Check Hashtag Pages

The pages of hashtags that a user regularly relies on can reveal if posts have been hidden. This could be a shadow ban related to specific hashtags. For example, some users have noticed that the #mustfollow hashtag doesn’t meet Instagram’s community guidelines so the platform may hide content.

View Instagram Insights

Instagram Insights offers some clues into shadow banning. If there’s a sudden and sustained drop in engagement, it could be because of a shadow ban. The percentage of accounts reached that weren’t already following a user offers some important information.

How to Determine the Cause of a Shadow Ban

Shadow bans can happen for a few reasons, including:

Using Bots

Instagram prioritizes authentic growth and punishes shortcuts. Using bots or growth tools is “cheating” so it could prompt a shadow ban.

Including Broken Hashtags

Some popular hashtags become overrun with inappropriate content. If this happens, Instagram may restrict or remove a hashtag, which affects everyone else who may have used it. Depending on the hashtag, it could even lead to blocked accounts.

Constant Reported Content or Account

If users repeatedly report an account, Instagram will assume it’s posting inappropriate content or violating the terms of service. This could lead to a disabled account, but Instagram may just shadow ban it.

Too Much Engagement Too Fast

Instagram limits bot activity by monitoring how much engagement new users have. New users who follow, unfollow, like, comment, or post too much appear as bot activity, not a genuine user. This may also flag as a user who’s trying to build a following too quickly, rather than connecting with the right audience, and may prompt a shadow ban.

Shadow Banned? Here’s How to Fix It

Shadow banning can significantly limit an account’s reach and growth, but there are ways to correct it.

Stop Bot Activity

One of the quickest ways to get a shadow ban is with bot accounts or other automated tools. Users can remove these tools to potentially reverse a shadow ban. The desktop Instagram shows the connected apps and websites, which includes any bot accounts that may be active. Then they can be removed.

Avoid Banned Hashtags

Instagram cracks down on fake accounts when there are too many reported posts with the hashtag or bot and spam accounts using otherwise innocent hashtags inappropriately. Kicksta has a long list of banned hashtags for 2023, which includes #models, #bikinibody, #hustler, and #kissing.[1]

Some of these hashtags seem innocent, but it’s too easy for a bot account to attach spammy or inappropriate content to them. Just having the hashtag after a ban lumps any user in with the flagged content. It’s important for users to be selective and careful about hashtags, including checking Instagram’s lists of recently banned hashtags.

Issue an Appropriate Content Warning

Some topics may not be spammy or in violation of guidelines, but they can still be upsetting to the audience. Instagram doesn’t offer the same “Sensitive Content” feature for users’ own content as it does for the newsfeed, but “nesting” potentially sensitive content can help.

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Source: Hubspot

This puts the sensitive content in a slideshow with a warning as the first image, giving the user an opportunity to decide whether to continue looking at the rest of the slideshow. The first slide only needs to be a brief warning, such as “sensitive content: swipe to view.”

Take a Break

Some users have released the shadow ban by taking a 48-hour break from Instagram. This short break can be enough to reset the account and get it back in the feed. Though two days can seem like a long time, it’s less detrimental than the effects of a shadow ban.

Follow Community Guidelines

Instagram is transparent about the Terms of Use, Community Guidelines, and Recommendation Guidelines – as are other platforms. This makes it simple for users to follow the community guidelines and avoid violations, such as:

  • Sharing only appropriate content
  • Posting content that’s accurate and truthful
  • Only sharing content that’s owned and original or with permission

What About Shadow Banning on TikTok?

A shadow ban on TikTok is similar to on Instagram – the user’s account is blocked or partially blocked so content doesn’t show on the For You Page. The affected user’s likes, views, and comments also experience a significant drop.

With TikTok shadow bans, the algorithm is automated and protects users from copyright issues, spam, threats, and inappropriate content. It’s basically a “timeout” that can impact a user’s reach discoverability, and growth.

Unlike Instagram, TikTok did not release a statement – explicit or otherwise – indicating that shadow bans exist, but it does indicate that violating the community guidelines could cause problems for users.

According to TikTok, accounts can be temporarily or permanently banned for repeated platform violations. Some of these include:

  • Posting adult content
  • Bullying or harassing other users
  • Copyright infringement

Because TikTok relies on an algorithm, however, it’s possible for accounts to be banned accidentally.

How to Avoid a Shadow Ban

The easiest way to avoid a shadow ban on Instagram is to post valuable content and follow the best practices for long-term, authentic growth.

  • Don’t use bots or automated tools. Revoke access to any bot accounts.
  • Avoid banned hashtags and check for recently hidden hashtags.
  • Use only relevant hashtags and avoid hashtag spamming. The ideal is five or six hashtags per post.
  • Avoid posting a lot of generic comments on various accounts, which can come across like a bot.
  • Don’t engage in bot-like activity, such as leaving a lot of likes and comments or following a lot of accounts.
  • Don’t spam followers, which could lead to users reporting the account.
  • Always follow the community guidelines.

Stay Visible on Social Media

Shadow bans can devastate an otherwise successful social media account overnight. And as much time as it takes to get that following and growth, it can take that much longer to rebuild after a shadow ban happens. The best protection is to be proactive and focus on authentic engagement, relevant hashtags, and appropriate content. Though it may be slow and steady, taking this approach fosters long-term success and growth.




Chris Jacks is an influencer marketing professional with over a decade of experience in the digital marketing sphere. As the Director of Growth Strategy, Chris oversees and drives strategic initiatives to fuel business expansion. With a keen eye for market trends and opportunities, Chris develops comprehensive growth plans and aligns business objectives across cross-functional teams. With a strong focus on crafting impactful, ROI-driven influencer campaigns across multiple sectors, Chris utilizes his expertise to enhance market positioning and maximize results.

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