*New Update 7/23/2018: I published a blog post about how to fix the instagram shadow ban. My account is not banned any more.
Update 7/20/2018: There is a new shadowban tester website. However, it only checks your most recent post. Note: Add your username OR the link, not both or it will give you an error message. Not that I’ve tried ;-)
Update 3/30/2018: Aparently, there is a new shadow ban tester website by triberr. It checks the status of your past 10 posts on Instagram. My posts show everything from “Looks good” for the most recent 2 posts (where I dropped the problematic #lilvienna hashtag), to “Oh no! This post has been shadow banned” to “Skipped: This post has zero hashtags”. The skipped posts do have hashtags, so I am not sure what to make of it and how reliable this tester is. But you can get an idea. In June 2018, all my previous 10 posts were clear. 7/23/2018: Right now, the website seems to have some problems. They are working on making updates and it should be available in the near future. That’s what their support team told me in an e-mail from 7/23/2018.
Update 3/16/2018: I’ve added some updates in this article. Find them added in italics in this blog post and at the very end.
This is not the first time that I’ve been shadowbanned. But it is the first time that it happened to my food blog account (@lilvienna) and not as before, to my personal account. By the way, both are personal accounts and not business accounts.
But first of all: If you are not on Instagram and are not interested in it at all, simply stop reading here. I know that this is a food blog and usually I post exclusively recipes … but I have to post this here because it happens to many people and some of them might not even notice. Plus: It is soooooooo annoying, and writing about it helps me release all that anger. I wanted this to be a short post but I couldn’t hold myself back since I am so frustrated with this matter.
What is a shadowban?
People are talking about a #shadowban when nobody except themselves (and usually their followers) can see their pictures under a certain hashtags that they have tagged their picture with. For example, I always tag my food pictures with #lilvienna but right now, my pic will not appear under this hashtag. I can still see it but people who are not following my account cannot. I’m not sure if this is even an official term and I’ve read that Instagram has no such thing as shadow ban, but the fact is that it happens.
So whatever you call it – a ban, a bug, a failed hashtag-search or something else – your hashtags are not showing. Instagram banns certain pictures, if they contain a hashtag that is not allowed (‘banned hashtags’) or if they think you have used methods that are not allowed, like using bots or automated apps to gain followers. I have not used either of those nor have I used a broken or banned hashtag.
I’ve found a statement all over the internet that Instagram posted on their Instagram Business Account facebook page. I tried to find the original post, but either Instagram deleted it or it was not written in February 2017 but in one of the years prior. I simply didn’t care scroll down another thousand posts….. So here is an excerpt of their statement:
The sentence I love most is the one where Instagram suggests not to focus on hashtags too much. I really had to laugh out loud. What is Instagram all about? It’s about connecting people and sharing content. So how can that ever be possible without focusing on hashtags, targeting a very limited audience.
How does a shadow ban affect you?
- Fewer likes and comments. You are tagging your picture with certain hashtags so that other people can find them in the IG universe. Let’s say, I post a banana bread picture, I would tag it #bananabread #bread #baking etc. so that people who are interested in baking and banana bread, are able to find my picture. If your hashtags are not working, nobody will find your picture, hence nobody will like or comment it.
- No new followers. In addition to not getting likes and comments, you will not gain any new followers. If only your existing followers are able to see your pictures, nobody will discover your pics and your account. So as a result, nobody will follow you. In fact, you will slightly lose followers since you won’t gain new followers but as you might have noticed, there are accounts that follow and you and if you don’t follow them back, they will unfollow you. Or people are losing interest in your content and unfollow you.
- No features. Besides hashtags, features are another way of people getting to know your feed, especially when you don’t have a huge crowd following your account already. If you are like me a blogger working in a certain field – in my case food – you often rely on accounts with a huge number of followers that feature other people’s pictures and accounts. In the food scene, such meta accounts are @bestofvegan or @thefeedfeed and the like. They want you to use a certain hashtag – in my example #bestofvegan – to be able to find pictures to feature them. If they can’t see your picture because of the shadowban, well they don’t feature you – unless you are a famous IGer already and they follow your account anyways.
To sum up: If you are shadow banned, you will get less likes, fewer comments, fewer or no features and stop gaining new followers.
How to find out if I am shadow banned?
I noticed a huge drop in likes first. Usually, if you post a picture and use some hashtags, there are always (!) people who will like your posts. Especially during the first couple of minutes. So, if your likes are going up slower as usual, or you hardly gain any likes, you should check if your post has been shadow banned. If you are shadow banned your engagement drops, you will get fewer likes and comments and stop gaining new followers.
–> Do not confuse this with Instagram’s change of algorithm, which is also killing the engagement. I now get half or not even half of the likes compared to before the algorithm change.
There are certain shadow ban tester websites that claim to find out if you are shadowbanned or not but I personally wouldn’t rely on those.
Update 3/16/2018: The shadow ban tester website got neglected and doesn’t seem to work at all any more . It doesn’t let me add my username any more so I’ve deleted the entire chapter about it here.
Update 3/30/2018: Aparently, there is a new shadow ban tester website by triberr. It checks your past 10 posts on Instagram and their status. My posts show everything from “Looks good” for the most recent 2 posts (where I dropped the problematic #lilvienna hashtag), to “Oh no! This post has been shadow banned” to “Skipped: This post has zero hashtags”. The skipped posts do have hashtags, so I am not sure what to make of it and how reliable this tester is. But you can get an idea.
The triberr shadow ban tester website looks like this (click to enlarge):
The most reliable way to find out if you are shadow banned:
So how did I in fact find out that I am shadow banned? If I click on one of my added hashtags in the picture that is supposed to be banned, I still see my picture under “newest posts”. Also, if I look up the hashtag in the search (without clicking on the hashtag directly), it will show me my picture. But, if you sign out from your account or sign in with another account, which is not following you or ask a friend to unfollow you and check, you/they won’t see the picture under the hashtag. By the way, if you want to test, use a hashtag that is not used a lot or make one up to find your picture easier.
As you can see in the picture above, on the left you can still see my two most recent pictures, the veggie bowl and the banana bread if searching under the hashtag #lilvienna when logged into my account @lilvienna. On the right, you’ll notice that the these two pictures are missing if signed in with a friend’s account who is not following me (or simply sign out from your account). Not one of my hashtags is being displayed to the public.
My experience with the shadow ban
Info: Both of my accounts mentioned below are personal and not business accounts, which seem to be shadow banned more often. I used different e-mail addresses when I registered and my personal account did not follow my existing food blog account.
I have experienced the shadow ban for the first time about a year ago, when I started a new personal Instagram account. I created a new account that I wanted to run next to my food blog account, which only contains food pics. After posting my third picture on my new Instagram account, I noticed that only 4 people liked it. The first two pictures had at least 15 likes. So I was wondering and searched the internet. I came across the term shadowban and checked if this ban is applying to my account (see above on how to do this).
I continued posting pictures and reported them to Instagram every time, since they didn’t show under the hashtags. If you want to report a problem, you can do this by going to your feeds page, then press the 3 dots at the upper right corner and scroll down to ‘report a problem’. I did this at least for the next 15 pictures that I posted but Instagram never got back to me. And, I only got a handful of likes from the 10 friends I had gained before the ban started. The day came where I didn’t want to waste any more time with this new account. So, I stopped and openend a new account, using a new device, with a new email address. After posting two pictures, the same thing happend. I was shadow banned.
I was so frustrated that I simply left things where they were. I was afraid that at some point this could affect my food blog account, where I have already a following. After about two or three weeks, I obviously couldn’t let go, and tried again logging into my new account and posting a picture: It worked! I was surprised since I didn’t do anything, really.
Jumping to the presence: I’ve never had any issues again with being shadow banned until a few days ago. I noticed that a lot less people liked one of my pictures on my food blog account @lilvienna, where I’ve never had any issues with the shadow ban so far. The next day, I posted another picture, and it was even worse. The only few likes I got came from existing followers. I checked if I was being shadow banned – and I was (find out how to do that above). I tried posting a pic from my personal account as well: Same thing here. Shadow banned! What’s strange is, that sometimes pictures show up under the hashtags hours later, as in my case 12 hours late. This is just a curious detail on the side since hardly anybody likes or comments pictures that are this old. So what to do now?
What to do when being shadow banned?
- Report the problem to Instagram (most likely: nobody will respond)
- Don’t use broken or forbidden hashtags
- Check for banned hashtags – they can sound innocent but if they are overrun with inappropriate content they might get banned
- Don’t use apps and websites that automate your account even though they might sound harmless (apps to detect unfollowers, or preview apps … all of those will have access to your account)
- If using a scheduling app, take a break and post yourself for some time
- Do not like, follow, or unfollow a ton of people within short time (Instagram might think you are a robot)
As I’ve mentioned above, I do report every picture to Instagram that doesn’t show under the hashtags that I’ve used. I am pretty sure it’s useless. Nobody ever got back to me. I will keep posting a couple of pictures with different hashtags but if this problem continues to exist, I will take a break from Instagram. A couple of weeks or so. The last time, the problem solved itself so maybe it will be this way this time too. If not: Obviously Instagram can do whatever they want, as we have all seen in the recent change of their algorithm and to how many people you are displayed. I feel that the day is coming closer were I am so fed up with all of this that I quit Instagram for good. The only thing that I will miss for sure then is all the great people that I’ve met through this channel.
I will update this post if there is any change concerning me being shadow banned. I promise.
Update 3/16/2018: Today, Instagram has hidden almost all of my 500 pictures that I’ve tagged with my signature hashtag #lilvienna under this hashtag. Only 35 old pictures are left. No reason, just a disclaimer:
“Recent posts from #lilvienna are currently hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram’s community guidelines.”
I checked the #lilvienna hashtag every time when I added a new post on Instagram since …. you know … checking if I am still shadowbanned. No inappropriate content at all. Only my food pics and some other user pics, which used my hashtag to show their food pics. So, I really don’t know why the #lilvienna hashtag is suspicious now, all of a sudden.
All the other hashtags strangely seem to work in my most recent post though. I mixed up my hashtags and put them in the caption (not comments) to in my last few posts. Let’s see if this works. I’ll also omit the #lilvienna hashtag. I keep you updated.
Update 20/7/2018: I dropped the #lilvienna hashtag for good, which seems to have caused the problems. Ever since, all of my hastags work. It’s a pity though, that I can’t use it any more since this was my blog’s official hashtag.
Update 23/7/2018: Find a new blogpost about how I removed the instagram shadow ban here. It’s basically a summery of this article you are reading right now plus the method that finally worked to lift the shadow ban.