The English term “shadow ban” can be literally understood as “ban in the shadow” or “block in the shadow”. Refers to the term “ban” which is commonly used in the internet referring an account “blocking”.

Specifically, the shadow ban consists in that the content of the person in question stops being visible, but without that person’s knowledge.

The owner of a profile in a social media platform such as Instagram can be effectively blocked by a shadow ban. When this happens, the profile of the user and its posts are not visible neither to followers or other users.

The platform operators, however, don’t officially confirm or deny this penalty.

The shadow ban origin

Since the internet appearance, around the nineties, the shadow bans have been a practice regularly employed by forum moderators.

Shadow bans were designed to “mute” spammers, trolls and flamers in web forums without their noticing and thus prevent them from creating a new account. It was also done for, hopefully, they would leave the platform by not having reactions to their posts.

The debate around the subject of this kind of ban has spread around the world since approximately 2017 and some groups have publicly complained about the supposed “shadow bans” on the most popular platforms, calling them a form of uncontrolled censorship on social networks.

Controversy for the shadow ban

Due to the mainly unofficial nature of the shadow ban, the justification of many users lacks transparency since the supposedly problematic contents that are censored here, but that apparently don’t violate to the point of having to sanction users, are kept in secret from the platform operators.

Many users consider the shadow ban as a dirty move for avoiding confrontation.

Among others, shadow ban cases have been observed on platforms like Instagram, Reddit, Twitter and WeChat, among others.

How is a shadow ban noticed?

When an account is affected by a shadow ban, it is possible to notice it due to the fact that the reach/visibility of the new posts has dropped abruptly and interactions (such as shares and likes) have also suffered a dramatic decrease. The interaction that still takes place is almost exclusively through regular users or fans.

As a general rule, however, the number of subscribers doesn’t change and users can continue viewing their own posts. Messages are also not usually deleted.

In addition, a shadow ban guarantees that only the account’s followers can see posts related to certain hashtags when searching for the social network. Non – followers won’t see the content of the account affected by the shadow ban or at most they will see only a little bit of it.

Blocking test for Twitter

In the case of Twitter, in order to find out if an account has been affected by a shadow ban, it is possible to use this tool: Twitter Shadowban Test

For Instagram it’s possible to use: Instagram Shadowban Tester #1 | The Heist

Blocking test for Instagram

It is possible to post in an Instagram account using certain hashtag, then ask a trusted person or create a second account and ask the official account to follow this second account. If it does, check on Instagram search if the post appears for the specific hashtag.

Now this second account must unfollow the main account and the Instagram search must be checked again to see if the post appears for that particular hashtag.

If the post is visible, the account has not been shadow banned, otherwise, it has been affected.

Why is a shadow ban imposed?

A shadow block is imposed when a user has violated the social network rules by engaging in practices such as:

  • Using bots or automatized services (for instance, automatized comments or automatized following).

  • Purchasing fans, followers or reactions.

  • Excessive use of a hashtag (it will be classified as spam even if it’s only partially).

  • Excess or lack of activity: irregular activity such as too many posts that gets a lot of likes in a very short period of time, or too many people who stop following or start following while the rest of the time there is no interaction, can trigger a shadow ban.

  • The NSFW (Not Safe for Work) hashtags can be blocked: The hashtags that are not suitable for work environments because of its explicit sexual content or its inappropriate language, instead of promoting the content, can reduce its reach.

  • Using hashtags included in a blacklist. Some networks censor the newsfeed for certain hashtags.

  • Many complaints about the account have been received.

What to do in case of a shadow ban

In case of a shadow ban, there is not too much that can be done at the moment. However, it’s possible to try the following:

  • Check if any of the faults mentioned in the previous paragraph have been incurred. If so, it’s possible to change activity, for example, if that’s the case, abstaining from using unfavorable hashtags.

  • File a complaint or report the situation. This can be helpful.

  • Taking a break: Yes, seriously: posting less posts or absenting from Instagram or Twitter for a few days.

What is the objective of a shadow ban?

The objective of a shadow ban is to prevent the content that spammers spread on social networks from being shown on the same terms as the content of regular, authentic or serious users. It is more or less like a muzzle.

In other words, the main objective is to make the spammers feel frustrated, reconsider their method and post better content or stay away from the social network for good.

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