If you are reading this article then you’ve probably heard of the next big Instagram plague— far worse than the non chronological feed debacle and a thousand times worse than the infamous Instagram purge of 2014. The shadow ban. It’s here and it will seriously wreck your precious Instagram account. Whether you’ve been affected or not, read on to discover what causes it, how you can avoid it, and how you can un-shadowban your account.
What is an Instagram Shadowban?
The Instagram shadowban is when your hashtags become unsearchable, undiscoverable, and for all intents and purposes, invisible to anyone outside of your current followers.
You can still use hashtags and from your perspective everything seems dandy. When you click through your tags, your photos pop up where they should. Although, when a stranger searches for a hashtag that’s linked to your photo, like #pnw for example, your post will be totally missing on the gallery page, while other people’s photos are still displayed.
This hashtag specific ban means you will have a difficult time gaining a following, especially if you are a smaller account. Reversely, if you have painstakingly built a fantastic profile with a large fanbase, that account might become stagnant.
How do I know if I’ve been shadow banned?
Believe it or not, some people’s accounts have been banned for months and they are just noticing. Other users notice almost immediately. The primary sign is that you’ll see a drastic drop in engagement, and upon more investigation you’ll realize that virtually all of your likes and comments are coming from your current followers.
If you’ve noticed this downward trend, then you can conduct a hashtag test. You simply put up a new post and tag your photo with an underused hashtag that doesn’t get many updates. Then while you are still on your own account, click through to the hashtag gallery and look at precisely where your photo is located.
Then log onto another account that doesn’t follow/ interact with your profile. If your hashtag pops up, congrats, your account is in the clear. Sleep easy. But if the photo doesn’t show up where it should, you might be shadowbanned.
Update: Now you can use this shadowban checker.
Why did my account get shadow banned?
So you might be asking, why? Why me? I’m not a robot, I don’t use any third party apps, I don’t post nudes —I’m a maternity photographer for goodness sake!
Instagram hasn’t acknowledged this shadowban, let alone stated what actions will land you in time out. After exhaustive research, here is what might be causing your shadowban:
#1 You are using a broken or banned hashtag
We all know that certain tags like #booty is banned. Yet, sometimes perfectly innocent hashtags get overrun with so much spam and nudity that Instagram decides to nix the entire hashtag rather than sort through the rubbish. For example, #Newyears, #Instagirl, #eggplant and even #kansas are banned tags. Also, if you incorporate one banned hashtag into your post, it can essentially poison your entire set and render you invisible on all other legit hashtag galleries.
#2 You are using the same hashtags over and over again
Do you use the same set of 30 hashtags every time you post? Do you only switch up the last tag or two? Well, that might look a little spammy, as Instagram flags any repeat comments (or captions) you post.
#3 You’ve gone on liking sprees and mass following/ unfollowing
Instagram has a limit on how many actions you can make in an hour and if you go on a spree, IG will eventually block that action and say that you can’t use that feature for a while. But even if you don’t go over the limit, Instagram might recognize these surges of engagement as an Instagram bot on a liking rampage.
#4 Other users have reported you
Anyone you interact with can report your actions to Instagram HQ, and this is the one area of IG customer service where they act swiftly. So if you have been spamming, following/unfollowing rapidly, posting nude photos, stealing photos, or posting weird comments— some people might report your inappropriate behaviour, and you could be shadow banned instead of having your account outright deleted. Also, if you have been using the following/ unfollowing method you might be following/ unfollowing the same person a bunch of times, so much that they notice and report you.
#5 Using any kind of instagram automation software
This goes without saying but any service that claims to boost your account or perform any actions on Instagram on your behalf might be sabotaging you. In simple terms, anything automated is directly against Instagram’s terms of service. But maybe you have the automation set to slow speed, to mimic human actions on IG? Well, Instagram will find out anyways, because one minute your automation service is liking photos from an IP address in Washington then a few minutes later you comment on some posts from an IP address in New York. The algorithm will immediately recognize all of that as shifty behavior.
Is this a glitch or is Instagram doing it on purpose?
Instagram has released a statement vaguely addressing the invisible hashtag issue…
As you would guess, not many people are happy with this answer (and that’s putting it lightly).
The gist is that you should simply not lean on hashtags for growth and instead focus on other avenues, like creating good content and reaching out to potential followers. But hashtags are the main discovery mechanism on Instagram and growing your account without them is like going back to dial up internet.
Additionally, from what we’ve researched no one has personally heard back from Instagram if they reported this issue on the app. So for now, we are in the dark and at the mercy of the Instagram gods. But there are three valid theories which will help you make sense of the hysteria.
#1 Since this summer, Instagram has been changing their algorithms. Why? To crack down on automation services and Instagram bots. So one possibility is that the system is a little overzealous and is incorrectly punishing regular accounts. If this is true, the problem will be remedied when Instagram “gets the resources” and makes their algorithm smart enough to differentiate between bots and normal users, like yourself.
#2 Some people suspect that not enough business users are paying for ads on Instagram, especially considering Facebook’s acquisition of IG. So this could be the beginning of a pay-to-play system that has already been implemented on Facebook for businesses. Where your engagement is lowered automatically by the algorithm and you have run some ads to bring engagement back up.
#3 Many people suspect Instagram is deflecting from the issue, and will just continue to silence various accounts that appear spammy or don’t “behave well” via IG’s mostly unwritten engagement rules. Never communicating with the accounts as to not cause alarm. Scaring people straight with the constant threat of a shadow ban seems like an effective way to punish users who use get-followers-quick tactics.
How can I get my account back to normal?
We know, it sounds hopeless. Instagram’s customer support is notoriously silent in these sort of situations. But here’s what some other users have done to get the hashtag rights reinstated:
#1 Immediately stop suspicious activity
That means no more sprees of any kind. Make sure to do everything in even measure. What seems safe is to engage for a few minutes (5-10) every hour, like a few photos, post a unique comment specific to the post or photo, follow a new user, and like another photo in that order essentially. Don’t move too fast and don’t perform too many actions in a row or excessively.
#2 Revoke API permissions
Remember that one time you signed up for a follower tracker app and gave them your login info? Well, that could be the sole reason you are banned. So log onto your account and make sure that no other applications have access to your account. Additionally, if you have dabbled in any automation services in the past, they won’t show up on this authorized permissions page, because automation programs don’t use Instagram’s API in that way. If you can’t remember what service you used, or you are roped into some godforsaken annual plan, you’ll have to change your password to cut off the automation service.
#3 Switch from a business account to a personal account
It is possible that Instagram is trying to coax you into using ads. Businesses rely on engagement to increase sales, so decreasing reach could definitely force people to use sponsored posts. Reverting back to a personal account might be a way around this.
#4 Take a sabbatical
Take a few days off. Sign off and don’t log back in. No liking, no posts, and no following. Then when you get back on, ease back in slowly, and engage like you are being watched (because you probably are).
#5 Avoid growth hacks and engagement groups
Using 60 hashtags in your comment and caption? Following and unfollowing people by tracking them with a tracker app? Joined up with an engagement group that promises to like each other’s photos at a certain hour, in a certain way? Stop. It. All. These hacks may work for a brief second but if you get shadow banned then it’s all kind of pointless right?
#6 Delete questionable content
If you have posted anything that might be deemed questionable (this applies for hashtags too) go ahead and delete it. Getting rid of banned or reported clutter on your page might do the trick.
In the end, what matters is that you avoid anything spammy or questionable. If you follow these rules and recommendations there’s a good chance you can get your account back to normal. Have any of you been banned? Have any of these solutions helped? Anything that we missed? Let us know in the comments below!