Have you noticed a recent decline in your likes, comments, and overall engagement on a social media site? Maybe your TikToks aren’t getting as many views as they used to or once-popular tweets are struggling to gain traction. There’s a possibility that you’ve been shadowbanned. Learn more about what this limitation means for your account, why it happens, and how you can get it reversed.
What Is a Shadow Ban?
Shadow bans are a type of account restriction. While the specifics may vary between platforms, the general characteristics are similar. A shadow ban completely or partially hides a user’s content from the site — without notifying the user.
When a platform shadow bans your account, things will likely look normal from your side. You will probably be able to post as usual. However, your content might not show up on the platform’s timeline or in a site search. Other potential account restrictions from a shadow ban include limited messaging or reply capabilities.
How is a shadow ban different than a regular ban? The lack of communication between the user and the platform is what separates them. With a traditional ban, the site will inform the user of the restriction. It may offer an explanation, such as how they violated the platform’s terms and conditions. Depending on the offense and whether it’s the first violation or the latest of many, a user could be temporarily or permanently banned from posting altogether.
On the other hand, users with a shadow ban might not know which rule they broke. They may not even realize there is a shadow ban for some time or that a ban is the reason their content isn’t performing as expected. A shadow-banned user can still post, but their photos, messages or other content aren’t reaching their audience.
What Actions Can Get You Shadow Banned?
People who receive a shadow ban haven’t explicitly broken the rules to the point where they deserve an actual ban. It’s safe to say they’ve merely had their ranking tanked by an algorithm. In this case, any metric-related actions could result in this kind of ban.
Social media algorithms often penalize users for misinformation, spam, inappropriate content, unusual activity, or suspicious practices. An algorithm could still misinterpret your behavior even if you haven’t technically committed any of these offenses. Actions like buying followers, getting mass-blocked, using banned hashtags, or uploading in rapid succession could cause a shadow ban.
Although most shadow bans are only temporary, they directly react to something the account holder did. Social media platforms likely go through with them to subconsciously steer people away from certain behaviors. After all, you’re much less likely to post something again if it immediately tanks your engagement the first time.
How to Tell If You’re Shadow Banned
Since you won’t get an official alert about a shadow ban, you’ll have to do some sleuthing on your own to determine whether you have a ban. If you think you might have a shadow ban, ask yourself if you’re experiencing the following signs:
- Drop in engagement: A sudden or drastic change in audience engagement is a tell-tale sign of a shadow ban. If you usually get thousands of views and likes on every TikTok you post, you’ll quickly notice if you start struggling to break just a couple hundred views. A noticeable lack of interactions — when you haven’t made any other changes to your content — may signal a shadow-banned account.
- Limited access to features: While you still might be able to post content without an issue, a shadow ban could affect your access to other features and lead to frustration. For example, you might not be able to tag other people in your posts or reply to other users. Some shadow bans even prevent users from sending messages to other people. If you’ve lost access to primary features, you may have a shadow ban.
- Hidden search results: When you have a shadow ban, your content won’t appear on the site’s search results. For example, you may tag an Instagram post with #newyorkcity, but your post won’t appear in that tag’s results. The same goes for keyword or location searches.
While these factors are the basics, keep in mind that the specifics of shadow banning vary from site to site. Certain apps might provide official confirmation of shadow banning if you ask, while you might not get any clear answers from others — few sites outright admit to shadow banning.
When you’re trying to grow your brand or business’s Instagram following, a shadow ban can have severe effects. Your posts won’t appear in hashtags or search results, making it nearly impossible for new or even loyal followers to find your content.
While Instagram doesn’t openly admit to shadow banning, you can check to see if there are any restrictions on your posts. Open your Instagram settings and search for “Account Status.” This page will let you know if you’ve posted anything violating Instagram rules, tell you how it affects your account, and give you a chance to appeal.
Since TikTok is all about views, it’s pretty easy to tell if you have a shadow ban. A shadow ban means your content won’t appear on the For Your Page (FYP), which is where videos receive the majority of their views. If other users don’t see your TikTok on their FYP or in search results, you’ll see a serious decline in views and engagement.
While sometimes a change in viewership is related to the algorithm or the type of content you post, a serious drop-off in engagement may be a sign of an account shadow ban.
While Facebook, like other platforms, has denied the existence of “shadow bans,” founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg recently confirmed that the site has a “demotion” policy that affects the reach of certain posts and users. It might hide your posts from the timeline or make sure your comments don’t appear on others’ posts.
While some of these restrictions are meant to prevent the spread of misinformation, other users can get caught in the middle and it may affect their brand of business.
A Reddit shadow ban means the posts or comments you create aren’t visible to anyone except you and the subreddit’s moderators. Fortunately, Reddit offers a more direct way to check if you’re shadow banned than other platforms.
You can visit the r/ShadowBan subreddit and make a post inquiring if you’re banned. A bot will analyze your account and let you know if you’re shadow banned or if your posts and comments have been removed.
Losing engagement on Twitter can be detrimental to your brand reputation. If you think your Tweets are shadow banned, log out of your account or open a private browsing tab. Open Twitter and search for your username — if your tweets don’t show up, they likely won’t show up for anyone else.
How Does a Shadow Ban Actually Work?
These kinds of bans are somewhat mysterious since most social media platforms won’t even admit to carrying them out. However, some have hinted before about how ranking or algorithmic systems penalize users — in other words, shadow banning.
Once the system detects behavior it doesn’t want to promote on the platform, it essentially lowers their ranking. However, shadow banning goes beyond giving users a simple demotion. After all, it removes them from search results and hides their content from potential viewers.
This is because a social media site doesn’t want to give someone a platform once it assumes they are a spam account or have committed violations. Instead of manually reviewing their content, enforcing a ban, and potentially working through an appeals process, it just quietly hides them from view.
Whether they’re a bot or not, it’s much easier to get rid of them silently without going through the formal process. At this point, it’s up to the site when to lift the shadow ban. Although it’s possible to appeal their decision, it can be challenging. After all, most sites won’t even admit what they did in the first place.
What Is a Shadow Ban’s Impact on Your Business?
A shadow ban primarily reduces your visibility on social media. People won’t see you when they search for a relevant hashtag or post, so your conversion rate will probably drop. If a site removes your account from search results, even those specifically looking for your business won’t find you.
Less visibility means far less engagement than average — potentially for a few weeks at a time. Fewer likes, comments, and shares on your posts could negatively affect your business. These things could impact you tremendously if you’re about to release a new product or have an upcoming event.
Ultimately, less visibility and engagement results in fewer sales, a poor conversion rate, and abysmal lead generation. You may not even be able to respond to customer complaints on social media, which could impact customer’s perception of your brand.
Shadow bans can even impact the account itself. While many people only see their follower count slow or stagnate, it can actually drop. If the platform you’re on hides you from search results, your churn may outpace your acquisition and retention rates. Ultimately, you could end up with a permanently lower following.
What Should You Do if You Receive a Shadow Ban?
You need to know a sudden drop in interaction isn’t always due to this sort of pseudo-ban. The internet’s attention span is short and its focus constantly shifts, so people might’ve just moved on. Alternatively, your audience may just want a change of pace. Try to engage directly with your following before you assume you’ve received a shadow ban.
If you still think a site has given you a shadow ban, you should first see what behavior could’ve caused it. Continuing on like usual might not extend your penalty, but you won’t know until you find out. Try to look at your account to see what could’ve gone wrong.
So, should you post during a shadow ban? Although it’s fine to keep pushing out content like you normally do, it could make things worse. If everything started because an algorithm flagged your posts, continuing with the behavior could extend your pseudo-ban. Generally, it’s best to play things safe and hold off on posting for a short while.
If you don’t want to leave your followers hanging, tell them you will be less active for a while. You could say you’re focusing intensely on an upcoming project, you need to do some technical work behind the scenes, or you’re working on a profile revamp. The intrigue could even stir up some excitement, which would counteract your low engagement rate.
Can You Reverse a Shadow Ban?
Some shadow bans are temporary, only lasting a few days or weeks. In that case, you may just have to wait out these short-term limitations. Other times, you may have to take action to make your account visible again. Social media sites won’t exactly publish workarounds, so it’s up to you to determine your next steps.
For example, if you posted a photo or used a hashtag on Instagram that violated the platform’s terms of service, you may have to delete the post or remove the prohibited hashtag. If the reduction in your views and engagement lasts longer than a few weeks, you may have to consider making a new account.
How Do You Make Your Content Visible Again?
While it’s possible to take action to make your account visible again, the methods you should use vary. Your next steps depend on what you did to get the ban and what platform it happened on. However, most social media sites share traits, so there are a few approaches you can try out on any of them.
Generally, the first thing you should do is make sure your account looks legitimate. Verify your email address, upload a profile picture, fill in your business’s details, and publish your contact information. You want to make it extremely clear you’re real and official.
You should also check your follower count and see if there have been any sharp bumps or dips. An algorithm might think you’re buying or purging fake followers, which could result in a lengthy shadow ban. Weed out bots and try to stabilize your following if you can.
Most importantly, you want to check over all of your recent posts. Look at the words, hashtags, and links you used to make sure they don’t violate any rules. All of the content should be appropriate, look legitimate, and be reasonably spread out time-wise. If you see anything you’re on the fence about, remove it — you can always put it back later once the shadow ban lifts.
Avoiding Shadow Bans on Social Media
Shadow banning is a tricky obstacle for anyone trying to promote their brand or business on social media. Fortunately, you can typically avoid these bans by following platform guidelines and optimizing your content for your target audience.
About The Author
Eleanor Hecks is the Editor-in-Chief of Designerly Magazine, an online publication dedicated to providing in-depth content from the design and marketing industries. When she's not designing or writing code, you can find her re-reading the Harry Potter series, burning calories at a local Zumba class, or hanging out with her dogs, Bear and Lucy.