Shadow Banning: How Platforms Could Be Censoring Your Content

Written by: Megan Holcombe, Content Strategist
Date: March 27, 2018

Your account may have been shadowbanned, a tactic social platforms rolled out in recent years to hide content that doesn’t comply with their Terms of Service. Although well-intentioned, shadow banning hides innocent content from tons of accounts, and the digital community is not happy about it.

WHAT EXACTLY IS SHADOW BANNING?

Shadow banning is a process that blocks users from an online community or social media platform, usually without notification. This is different from normal banning or blocking because the user will still be able to post content but it won’t be shown to any audiences. While the process varies from platform to platform, the intended mission of shadow banning is to hide content created by bots, fraudulent accounts, or misuse of accounts.

WHICH PLATFORMS USE SHADOW BANNING?

In short – pretty much all of them.

Instagram has the most examples of shadow banning. Instagram hides content that includes particular (often unsavory) hashtags, and common hashtags which have become overused like #womancrushwednesday or #dogsofinstagram (sorry, @richardthedog).

If you use a banned hashtag, Instagram hides the content so that it can’t be found when searching that hashtag. If you continue using banned hashtags, your account visibility will take a hit and no one but you will be able to see all the great content you’re sharing.

Shadow banning isn’t just a problem on Instagram. Twitter is notorious for shadow banning. Twitter uses a shadowban to “downrank” accounts that are abusive or that appear to be bots instead of real people. One Twitter engineer described it as their methods to “ban a way of talking.”

While seemingly less prevalent on Facebook, their approach to monitoring for spam posts or fake accounts operates in a similar way to shadow banning. Over time, the shadowbanned user will become invisible to outside audiences.

HOW TO AVOID BEING SHADOWBANNED

Again, the intended use of shadow banning is to hide content and accounts that detract from the quality of content on the platform. However, it’s possible to get caught on the monitoring algorithm’s radar accidently, depending on how your account uses the platform. If you constantly use the same common hashtags, or tags that are often used to violate terms of service, you’re at risk of being banned.

Digital firms can avoid falling into shadowban territory when developing content by taking a few precautions:

  • Monitoring banned and/or commonly used tags
  • Developing unique content and highly specific hashtags for clients
  • Personalizing responses and messages in communication with followers instead of using generic automated responses
  • Building a base of active and interactive followers

Shadow banning can be a kiss of death for publishers, but simple steps like using hashtags thoughtfully and personalizing responses can help keep your content from being shadowbanned.

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Zach Stites
Megan Foote
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Sarah Heidlberg
Maggie Salkin
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Josh Mahan
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