Have you ever heard of the Instagram shadow ban or fallen victim to this ghost ban? Which Instagram denies the existence of, claiming that some people may be experiencing a “hashtag glitch”? I can tell you that there is as much truth in that as me saying that my middle-aged bum cheeks have no dimples.
If you haven’t heard of it, in short, Instagram will prevent your posts from appearing in hashtags and explore. Only those who follow you might see your posts. Your engagement may drop and your account will stop growing. More detailed explanations are given in the links at the end of this post if you want to find out more.
26 March to 2 April 2018 was World Autism Week. Because of the long-suffering difficulties we have had with our daughter, whom we believe to be high functioning autistic with PDA (Pathological Demand Avoidance, I wanted to share a little of the information I have gained over the years through exhaustive research. Along with the idea to share our story, I had a t-shirt printed with a slogan. The aim was to use a large proportion of the profit to donate to the NAS.
My slogan t-shirts launched on Thursday 29 March. Prior to launching the t-shirts, I increased my engagement. I had been a little sporadic due to Insta-disgruntlement. I made sure that I was liking and commenting as much as possible. On Good Friday, I dedicated a good chunk of time to it, trying to be particularly active to increase chances of my t-shirt being seen.
Whilst frantically plugging away at my phone, I receive an Easter message from my aunt. It’s amusing, it’s an Easter message, and without giving it a second thought, I upload it to my stories.
The picture quality is a little grainy as I am using the one that I was sent for the purpose of this post. Not long after I posted it, I receive a notification on my phone telling me that my post doesn’t conform to community guidelines. I’m a little surprised and see that the post has been removed. But I’m not bothered, my main agenda is raising autism awareness, the cheeky post was just to amuse my followers as an aside to the serious stuff I was talking about.
Later that evening, as I make another post, I notice that my hashtag #voguishandcalamity says that it only has 6 posts in it. How odd, I think. I have been consciously using the hashtag quite regularly. Must be a glitch, I think and give it little consideration until the next morning.
The next day, ready to post a reminder about my charity t-shirt, I notice that my pictures haven’t returned to my hashtag. So I start looking at the other hashtags I normally use. I am nowhere to be found. I am only visible on my feed and to my followers. It would seem that I have received the dreaded shadowban? Over that picture? I’m not puritanical or prudish, but I’m one of those people who keep their bikini tops on at the beach. My 9-year-old daughter chastises me for my white “boobs”, saying she finds them offensive and I need to tan topless. If my kids saw this picture, I would not be upset. I’d make fun of it by covering their eyes in mock-indignation and they would fall around laughing at my puerile attempts to shield them from this ‘shocking’ image. “Look at their bum cheeks!” they’ll shriek and giggle.
Nevertheless, I do a little bit of searching and read all of Instagram’s terms and conditions.
“We know that there are times when people might want to share nude images that are artistic or creative in nature, but for a variety of reasons, we don’t allow nudity on Instagram. This includes photos, videos, and some digitally-created content that show sexual intercourse, genitals, and close-ups of fully-nude buttocks. It also includes some photos of female nipples, but photos of post-mastectomy scarring and women actively breastfeeding are allowed. Nudity in photos of paintings and sculptures is OK, too.”
OK, no fully nude buttocks. I search and find this image on several feeds. Not blocked. Because, actually, they aren’t fully nude. They are as suitably covered as nipples with plasters or emojis, which is acceptable. The absolute fuckknuckles, I think. You can take the picture down if down if you don’t like it, but don’t ban me over something so innocent.
Did someone report me? If so, there are a just a few issues with this. The picture came down so quickly, it must have been a real stalker with a strong dislike for me. Alarm bells, hell yes. If you don’t like my predilection for expletives, then off you scamper. Don’t watch my stories. Let’s not forget that my main body of work over the last few days relates to a charitable cause. You can go join Instagram with their new fuckknuckle moniker my friend.
And even so, IF someone had reported it, should Instagram not investigate it properly before they impose a ban on your account?
Perplexed I go into the settings where you report that something is not working. I tell them, briefly (yes, you might not believe this) that “I am not showing in the hashtags and it’s quite damaging to my charity campaign which falls within a certain set of dates”. I’ve heard rumours that they are not good at responding.
I can confirm that these rumours are true. The fuckknuckles. You can take away my ability to share my pictures, but you are unable to respond to my appeal? So here I’m going to highlight one of their “Community Guidelines” which might normally have me rolling on the floor with sidesplitting laughter. If I weren’t so upset. Yes, the fuckknuckles. If I say it often enough, maybe I’ll feel a little less agitated. Here it is. Prepare yourselves. From the people themselves:
“Maintain our supportive environment by not glorifying self-injury.
The Instagram community cares for each other, and is often a place where people facing difficult issues such as eating disorders, cutting, or other kinds of self-injury come together to create awareness or find support. “
You bastard fuckknuckles. If you care about people facing difficult issues, THEN DON’T BAN MY GODDAMN ACCOUNT WHILST I AM TRYING TO RAISE MONEY FOR PEOPLE WITH DIFFICULTIES. (insert all the itchy twitchy middle fingers here).
If I seem a little angry, it’s because I am. Upon the advice of several people and articles and blog posts, I send the message repeatedly, hoping that they will respond. I had believed that I might have a decent donation for the NAS by the end of World Autism week. It’s the school holidays if it were only a matter of taking a little time out and easing off the Insta, then it’s not a plane crash. But I’d been planning this fundraising t-shirt for Autism week for months. Months. I felt quite sad if I have to be honest.
48 hours and ZERO response later, I have read rather a lot of articles about the so-called non-existent shadowban. I’m still not entirely sure why I was banned, but I have looked into all the possible reasons.
Cover your arses, so to speak. Cover your nipples. And your arses. But even then, as seen in the picture that I’ve posted. These are murky waters. The nudity guidelines state that you cannot have close-ups of fully naked buttocks. Define close-up please Instagram. Everyone’s perception is different. I trawled Insta and found many pictures of butts which were significantly more offensive than the one I posted (on STORIES, not even my feed).
The image was not mine. But a little digging revealed that so many people post and share images and memes from various sources, that Instagram encourages the copyright holder to address the issue with the offender themselves. It’s highly unlikely that Buzzfeed, or whoever took the photo of these Easter bums found my stories in the 3 minutes that it was online and reported me. My following is not that big. But to be on the safe side, use your own content. If you use someone else’s, always state the source.
Now, this is a funny one. Did you know that there is a very big list of banned hashtags? And they may not all be what you expect! I did indeed use a banned hashtag, which bizarrely I discovered after a comment one of my fellow Instagrammers made. If you can guess what it is, I’ll buy you a gin.
Yep, Easter. Who is not going to use #easter on the Easter weekend? Maybe those that already know. BUT, I searched and found other people who had used this hashtag, and although they did not appear in this broken hashtag, I still found them in others. They had not been banned. A little inconsistent maybe?
So although it seems clear that using a banned hashtag won’t automatically get you banned, it’s in your best interest to check. Every single one. A list of banned hashtags can be found here, but keep in mind that a hashtag can become banned or broken at any time, so you should essentially check each hashtag every time you use them.
Best practice, found in most articles I’ve read, are:
- Don’t use the same hashtags in all your posts. Change it up a little. Use a combination of niche and popular hashtags
- Don’t copy and paste
- Don’t put your hashtags in the comments. Leave a gap after your post and add them to your post. This is apparently because some people are using their 30 hashtag limit and then going back to the post and adding additional there. Insta doesn’t like this.
- Don’t use the 30 hashtag limit. The more you hashtag, sure, the more likely you are to be found by people, but beware, this may also earn you a badge as a spammer or a bot from Instagram.
Still, apart from the cardinal sin of using #easter over the Easter weekend, and being guilty of using 30 hashtags (most of the time), I still don’t think I’ve done anything to deserve the dreaded ban.
Automation and Bots
Instagram says they want to keep the Instagram experience real. In short, if you act like a bot, their bots assume you’re a bot and throw you into the bot ban club. A little ironic? Yes.
More information can be found on plannthat.com’s website. If I try to explain everything, we’ll be here forever. But what you do need to know (which I don’t think is fully covered in that article): don’t type too fast. Have you ever had that error message telling you that you are typing too fast? Yes? That is Insta thinking you are a bot. You are usually able to go on your merry way and keep commenting after a few frustrating minutes. BUT!! Guess what. There is a very strong possibility that they have imposed a 24-hour shadow ban on you. You probably won’t even notice. You may post a picture later that day and beat yourself up wondering why your amazing picture didn’t get as much engagement as usual. So take your time, type slowly. Also steer clear of one-word replies or just posting emojis. Something we are all guilty of? Flick through pictures while we’re supposed to be doing something else, drop a quick word or an emoji? You’re better off not doing it. Rumours are that Instagram doesn’t count it as engagement and it might earn you a little bot badge.
This leaves me to wonder. Did my increased engagement (to help me promote that charity T) flag me up as a potential bot? Did my engagement not look real? Was I flying through friends, accounts, and posts too quickly?
What have I learned?
I still don’t really know how exactly I earned the shadow ban. This seems to be a common story with most people who have ended up on Fuckknuckle Naughty list.
I realise that it can be argued that Instagram is a free platform. They can do what they like.
But are we not working pretty damn hard to create pictures and content that make their app the most popular social media platform with their 800 million active users? Who would want to look at it if it was just filled with advertising?
Maybe a little courtesy with a warning might be reasonable? “Hey, your Instagram patterns are looking a little unusual, please respond with ‘xxx’ by ‘xxx’ time or you will be blocked. Thank you from the Instagram team” This might be a pretty simple way to keep their minions happy? It’s fairly common practice in any job. We are all working to promote our businesses (or charities), but at the same time, we are making Instagram an interesting place.
Ultimately its all about the money. Everyone wants to make the money and Instagram provides a powerful marketing platform. Have you been one of the many to puzzle over the Instagram algorithm? Well, here is your answer in 3 words.
Money. Money. Money.
Food for thought
Instagram wants brands (and business profiles) to do sponsored posts. Have you noticed some of the newer brands that may have a following of around 10k but their photos only have very low engagement? Professional photos, taken by photographers. Yet an Instagram blogger with about 2 or 3k followers might get a much higher rate of engagement from the photo their little one took against the garden fence. Wearing the same dress or t-shirt shown on the brand’s page.
Before I started digging and reading everything I could find on Instagram this weekend, I assumed that people just prefer seeing the clothes on a “real person”. That the brands engage less and perhaps don’t connect with “the people”.
Well, that was a bit naive. Take off those rose-tinted spectacles and have a look at the data. Is it possible that Instagram is using their nifty little algorithm to push these brands right to the back of the pile of the 95 million photos and videos that are posted every day? Because they want them to PAY to have their posts featured?
Small brand thinks: “hey, that influencer gets a lot of attention, let’s send them some free stuff, it’s cheaper than paying for advertising”. Instagram thinks: “You bloody buggers, we want your money”.
Anyone noticing a drop in their reach but a nice surge in sponsored posts?
What would you do in their (money-grabbing greedy ) shoes? Just think about it.
I know many people who are getting annoyed because their account is not growing at the rate it should. Without the shadow ban. So here is an idea.
If Instagram is analysing the tags of a brand and they find that hashtag #gifted on your page, why wouldn’t they chuck you towards the bottom of the picture feature pile? They want businesses to use them for advertising, not you. Unless you are a pretty big influencer, the brand may be forced to rethink their strategy. A sponsored post perhaps?
If you receive gifts from brands, it might be worth recording your engagement stats after you have used #gifted. Or perhaps stick to the word gift or (g) in your post content. This is all speculation, but keep in mind that Instagram would prefer to have the money handed over to them rather than you.
Ultimately, the reality is that we need Instagram more than they need us. 800 million active users. Each of us to them? Not even a droplet of turtle piss in the ocean. We are at their ruthless mercy.
My shadow ban has made me review how I want to tackle this social media game going forward. One thing is clear, it’s not the best idea to have all your eggs in the same basket. I need to diversify. Rethink how I do things. I do not want to depend on a platform that can shut me down or ban me for weeks, or even months, on a whim or based on poor data. How can small companies survive this?
Its been a full week since my shadow ban on Friday 30 March. I followed all the guidelines found on websites and logged out of Instagram for 48 hours. Logged back in, reduced my posting and engagement. By Tuesday 3 April, I still had not heard from Instagram, just a smidgen depressed that the charity campaign I had planned for months was sabotaged. Hung, drawn and quartered whilst trying to do a good deed. Over the Easter weekend. Pretty gutted.
I couldn’t look at it or be part of it anymore. But the reality is that I’ve worked pretty hard over the last year to build a reasonable following to grow my blog and my business. And to some extent, it has been working quite well. I have met some wonderful people along the way. I can’t just throw that away. But at the same time, I was deeply unhappy. I shut my account temporarily to avoid any of the toxicity I was feeling from seeping into my brightly coloured squares. A little time to restore factory settings and find my enthusiasm again.
Since there is no response from Instagram, I have no idea how long this shadow ban will last. There are reports of weeks and some reports of months. Not only has my good deed been blown to pieces, I am losing paid opportunities.
What do we do?
We need to stick together and support each other. Tag your friends if you see a post you like, but the engagement seems low for the quality of the post. Spread our eggs. (that’s eggs, not legs. Don’t misread it. Totally different meaning. The fuckknuckles definitely won’t like us spreading our legs. Check the terms and conditions).
If you’ve been a victim of the shadow ban or have concerns about Instagram, please let us know by leaving your comments. I would love to hear about them.
Some useful information if you have been shadow banned
Please share this post. Especially if you know people who depend on Instagram for their business.
And please look out for me. There at the bottom of the barrel, discarded as the dregs that might never make it to the wine glass. OK, I’m getting slightly melodramatic now. For all I know, my cheesy smiling face might be back in those hashtags.
Thank you for sticking with it if you made it all the way down here.