If you say “Instagram shadowban” in the mirror three times, Head of Instagram Adam Mosseri appears and tells you it isn’t real.
“But then why am I only getting 20 likes per post when I used to get 250+?” you ask, frantically coming up with hashtags to find The One that will put you back on the map.
Well… maybe it’s not about the hashtags you’re choosing.
Fear not: This is your complete guide to avoiding an (alleged) Instagram shadowban, and how to recover from one (allegedly).
Bonus: Download a free checklist that reveals the exact steps a fitness influencer used to grow from 0 to 600,000+ followers on Instagram with no budget and no expensive gear.
An Instagram shadowban is an unofficial ban that restricts an account’s visibility (in users’ feeds, Stories, Explore pages etc.), negatively affecting reach. It can happen when an account posts sensitive content or enters a gray area of the platform’s Community Guidelines. What makes it different from a regular ban is that users are not notified when their account is shadowbanned.
It’s important to note that according to Instagram, shadowbanning is not practiced on the platform — but so many users claim to be affected by mysterious restrictions that the myth lives on.
While shadowbans apparently aren’t real, we know that Instagram, like all social media platforms, has ways of promoting or restricting pieces of content. What many refer to as “the Instagram algorithm” is really a network of many factors that affect the potential reach and visibility of each post, either positively or negatively.
Instagram references this power in their Community Guidelines: “Overstepping these boundaries may result in deleted content, disabled accounts, or other restrictions.”
The AI doing this in the background has good intentions: To keep Instagram spam-free and safe. These algorithmic tools exist to comply with global laws about internet security, misinformation, and political interference.
Moderation and legal compliance are very different from what users report an Instagram shadowban is, though. Instagram tells you directly if you’ve run afoul of copyright or other specific laws or policies.
Create a positive environment, be respectful in all communications (even DMs), don’t post inappropriate content or promote violence, and—especially important for companies—ensure you own the copyright (or have permission) for everything you post.
Have decades of playing Super Mario World on SNES trained your thumbs to move like lightning? Try to reign in your supreme powers. If you follow more than 500 people per hour, or otherwise interact with the app with robot speed, Instagram may think you are a bot.
There are a lot of opinions about how many follows, likes, or comments you can do in a certain period of time. Some say it’s 160 total actions per hour, some say 500. Some say it’s different for each account, depending on how long you’ve been a user or if you have any “red flags.”
Meta’s spam policy, which covers Instagram, simply tells users not to “post, share, engage…either manually or automatically, at very high frequencies.”
Whatever the limits are, move too fast and you could get a notification that freezes your account for hours, or even days. You won’t be able to do anything on Instagram until it’s over (although there is an appeals process).
Your rocky engagement metrics may be the result of a haphazard posting schedule instead of a shadowban. Posting often, at least several times per week, should keep your current followers seeing your content in their feeds and keep new followers coming in.
A banned hashtag means Instagram has deemed it problematic and decided to hide or limit content that uses it from search and other areas.
Periodically check your usual hashtags to ensure they haven’t been banned. If so, remove them from recent posts to avoid potentially damaging your reach, or worse, becoming shadowbanned.
How to know if you’re using a banned hashtag? Search it. If you see the message below on the hashtag page, it’s a no-go.
It’s not only the obviously inappropriate ones to watch out for. Fitness peeps should avoid using #pushups, for example. Why? Who knows, but it shows the importance of regularly checking your tags.
If you’re talking about a news story or violent event, Instagram can mistakenly think you’re promoting violence, which goes against guidelines. However, they do make exceptions as long as your purpose is to raise awareness and benefit the community.
To be on the safe side, Instagram suggests blocking or blurring violent or sensitive images, and including a warning in your graphic and text. Also be sure to state your position on the issue clearly, so that Instagram doesn’t think you’re pro-violence. If seeing the original image is important to raise awareness, you can link to an external site with the full news story.
Last but not least? While you may inadvertently run afoul of Instagram’s content guidelines, as long as you aren’t seeking out ways to cheat the system, you’ll probably be fine.
Things to avoid include:
- Buying followers
- Using unapproved third-party apps to auto-like content, or that claim to build your followers “organically.” (Don’t worry: Hootsuite is an official Instagram partner.)
- Replying to DMs asking you to input a code or provide similar information.
Users describe an Instagram shadowban as feeling like “the algorithm is against them.” Typical symptoms of an Instagram shadowban are:
- A dramatic drop in engagement (likes, comments, impressions, etc) without an obvious reason.
- Your Audience Insights show significantly less non-follower reach.
- Your followers start saying they don’t see your posts anymore like they used to, or that your Stories don’t show up near the top of their screens.
Shadowbanned users say that after posting something potentially controversial, their organic reach, likes, and engagement suddenly tanked—even for posts after that. Or, that their follower count stops growing like usual, no matter what they do.
Some users say a shadowban happened to them after receiving an Instagram notification like this, known as an “action block.” This happens when Instagram thinks you’re a bot if you like or comment on too many posts too quickly. #FireThumbs
Besides being restricted from the action that caused the pop-up, users also notice decreased reach or other factors leading them to think they’re being penalized for more than the notification indicates.
From analyzing many first-hand accounts, it seems like the average Instagram shadowban lasts about two weeks.
But, how long does a ghost hang around a haunted house? Like other urban legends, there isn’t a clear answer for how long a shadowban lasts because it’s all word of mouth.
It’s also possible that Instagram imposes different levels of shadowbans. Some users report being back to their usual engagement and growth levels within a few days, while others say their account never recovered and remains at a stand-still almost a year later.
If you think you’re being shadowbanned, here’s your guide to fixing it.
The bad news: There isn’t a one size fits all solution.
The good news: We’ve organized these by difficulty, so start at the top and work your way through until the clouds part, the algorithm sings, and your shadowban is over.
1. Delete the post that got you shadowbanned
If your shadowban happened immediately after your last post, try deleting it to see if your engagement goes back to normal for your next few posts.
Whether this works or not, you also have to ask yourself how strongly you believe in what you posted, and how far you’re willing to go to satisfy AI robots vs. your own integrity. Deep.
2. Delete all hashtags from recent posts
Does this work on its own? Prob not, but hey, it’s quick and easy. Try editing your posts from the last 3-7 days to remove all hashtags.
3. Stop posting for a few days
Some users say this sort of “reset” their account and cleared a shadowban. Take a break from all Instagram content, including Stories and Reels, for 2-3 days.
4. Check your hashtags
Search for each of the hashtags you use to see if they’ve been banned or restricted. If so, stop using those ones and delete them from all your recent posts. Learn how to do this in the next section.
5. Go all in on Reels
We know Instagram prioritizes Reels right now. You’ll get more followers and engagement by posting Reels. So, go hard and post a Reel a day for a few weeks.
One Instagrammer I spoke with said she was shadowbanned after inadvertently violating the content guidelines. She received a notification, her post was removed, and she figured that was the end of it. However, she experienced 6 months of reduced engagement, despite having consistent growth before. She thinks focusing on Reels for 3 months helped dig her out, and now her engagement is back to normal.
And, hey, Reels are always a good idea anyway. Get inspired with these Reels ideas anyone can do quickly.
6. Deactivate and reactivate your Instagram account
Some users report temporarily deactivating their account for 1-2 days fixed a shadowban. There’s no real evidence this works, so do so at your own risk. Be sure to use the deactivate feature, which is reversible. It’s not the same as deleting your account, which isn’t.
7. Boost a post
(Not the one that got you shadowbanned, obviously.) One Instagrammer said this instantly got them out of a shadowban.
Again, it’s anecdotal evidence, but boosting a post is a great way to try out Instagram advertising.
Finally, you might want to try officially reporting a problem to Instagram (as tricky as it may be, considering Instagram claims shadowbans aren’t real). To do this:
- Go to your profile page on Instagram
- Tap the menu icon in the top right corner of the screen, then go to Settings
- Tap help, then Report a problem
- Follow the prompts to best describe your issue
Yes. Users report having specific words or hashtags in their posts have resulted in either receiving official content violation warnings, or experiencing a shadowban.
Many politically-focused accounts say they’ve repeatedly been hit with content violations for speaking about current events, even though Instagram’s Community Guidelines say: “We allow content for public awareness … after weighing the public interest value against the risk of harm, and we look to international human rights standards to make these judgments.”
Anti-racism educators often report experiencing shadowbans. Many have seen a connection between shadowbans and using words like, “white,” or “racism,” or raising awareness about the murders of BIPOC people. Since Instagram says they have a zero-tolerance violence policy, the AI could be interpreting the usage of words like “murder” in this context as a violation.
We have spoken a lot about the racism that is embedded is social media platforms.
I frequently get my content removed from Facebook and Instagram when I speak out about racism and injustices and Instagram has me on a constant shadowban 🙄
Today I stumb…https://t.co/zRg4vVKEBo
— Hannah Litt (@hannahlitt) August 27, 2022
Some educators alter words to try and avoid this—like “whyte”—or censor parts of them, like “m*rder.”
If you haven’t seen posts from your favorite people lately, especially BIPOC or LGBTQIA2S+ creators, search for their profiles and like, comment, and save their posts to help give them a boost.
I mean… no. *OK did Adam Mosseri click away yet?*
Honestly, there’s no way to know for sure. We even tested Instagram’s limits and tried to get shadowbanned.
Looking at the evidence, we know that all platforms regulate content and either reward or discourage certain posts, or topics. So, yes, it’s possible that Instagram shadowbans are real.
On the opposite side, Instagram has explicitly said they’re not real. 🤷♀️
I asked @mosseri this question, knowing full well how he was going to respond.
There you have it guys. Again.
— Jackie Lerm 👩🏻💻 (@jackielerm) February 22, 2020
Could what we call a shadowban just be the algorithm at work, changing what’s “hot” right now? We can philosophize about Instagram shadowbans all day, but the truth is, Instagram isn’t a neutral entity. It’s a company making decisions based on business goals, just like you.
If your Instagram performance is lagging, or you’re frustrated after a shadowban, maybe it’s time to revise your marketing strategy instead. We’ve got just the thing: 18 ideas to grow on Instagram right no
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