August 23, 2017 Last updated on August 19th, 2020
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Have you noticed a dip in your engagement recently? If so, you’re not the only one! Many Instagrammers are still reporting that their accounts seem to have been shadowbanned, despite Instagram’s recent claim that shadowbanning isn’t actually a thing. Their follower count has dropped, they’re not receiving as many likes on their photos as they used to, and their posts don’t seem to be showing up under the hashtags they’ve used. So what’s happening, if not the dreaded Instagram shadowban?

If this Instagram nightmare is all too familiar, or you’re just curious as to what all the shadowban drama is about, read on! This article is going to unpick the Instagram shadowban, taking a look at what ‘shadowbanning’ actually means, as well as what you can do if you’re worried your account has been shadowbanned.

The Instagram Shadowban: What is it and Why is it Happening?

First things first, a quick definition of the Instagram shadowban.

‘Shadowban’ is an ambiguous term, but it generally refers to Instagram restricting the visibility of a user’s content for various reasons, so that posts don’t show up in searches or in followers’ feeds. This in turn results in a drop in engagement, and makes it really difficult for a shadowbanned user to grow their account.

However, the twist is that Instagram recently announced that there is no shadowban, and it doesn’t hide people’s content for posting too many hashtags or taking other actions.

Many who have experienced the ‘symptoms’ of a shadowban aren’t totally buying it – and it’s always good to be cautious and ask questions. Not to say that Instagram isn’t telling the truth, but we already know users have previously experienced their content not showing up in hashtag searches, for example. Instagram released a statement back in February acknowledging “We understand users have experienced issues with our hashtag search that caused posts to not be surfaced…When developing content, we recommend focusing on your business objective or goal rather than hashtags”.

Instagram for business post

Take from that what you will, but whether or not it’s down to a shadowban, reduced searchability and visibility of content is still an issue for Instagrammers.

The general consensus was always that shadowbanning was Instagram’s attempt to prevent content which is against their terms of service and encourage users to play by the rules, namely posting engaging, relevant and interesting content that receives genuine engagement from the community. And that would be fair enough.

Of course, a dip in followers and engagement could also be down to the updates to Instagram’s algorithm, which has been open to ongoing changes in recent years. According to Instagram expert Alex Tooby, these algorithmic changes have led plenty of accounts to see “a drastic decrease in engagement of up to 50% or more”. It’s also worth bearing in mind that, just because you’re not getting the engagement you once were, it doesn’t mean you’ve been shadowbanned.

Maybe users aren’t seeing your content because you’re not posting at an optimal time, or your hashtags aren’t effective, or maybe the quality has just slipped…😬

Basically, don’t jump to conclusions. First, evaluate whether it’s just time to re-jig your strategy.

engagement drop Instagram

To find out if you’re simply falling short due to Instagram’s algorithm, or if you think it’s still possible your account has shadowbanned, ask yourself if you’re committing any of the following Instagram faux pas.

Even if you’re sceptical of the whole shadowban concept, it’s better to play it safe and follow Instagram’s rules. After all, breaking some of these could result in your account being banned outright, so why risk it?

1. Using bots to like, comment, and boost engagement

Take a look at your latest post and check out some of the comments. Are they all real, genuine comments? It’s likely that at least some are random emojis or unrelated, one word comments. Despite changes to Instagram’s API in April 2018 that limited third party access to certain data and functions, such as the ability to post on behalf of a user, some bot services seem to have slipped through the cracks and continue to promise hundreds of likes and comments without you having to lift a finger.

Hmm 🤔

Considering Instagram is dead set on cleaning up the platform, and list using third party services to automate engagement as going against their T&Cs, you can be sure that you’re playing with fire if you’re using bots. Understandably, Instagram doesn’t want the platform to fill up with fake, spammy interactions, so it follows that there will be consequences for your account.

There’s also a lot of debate around exact ‘caps’ on follow activity, and nobody seems to have a definitive answer. That said, if you’re following and unfollowing a large number of Instagram accounts per day, leaving hundreds of comments in a short space of time, or liking countless posts per hour, Instagram will recognize this as fake activity. And what we do know for sure is that this can result in at least a 24 hour ban on following accounts.

How to Get Your First 1000 Followers on Instagram

Though it’s impossible to say that this will definitely result in a shadowban, what’s certain is that it isn’t worth the risk!

There are other reasons not to use bots, besides the threat of a ban. Low quality engagement, both from and on your account, will damage your reputation and make your account less appealing to real potential followers. You can’t build a community based on automated engagement, and it’s not going to help you grow your business or make money, so why bother?

2. Using software that’s against Instagram’s terms of service

With the April updates to the Instagram API came the ability to post automatically to Instagram – the feature we’d all been waiting for! 🎉

Previously, any apps promising to post directly to Instagram for you were breaking the rules and could get your account banned (or shadowbanned), so this release was HUGE. However, to auto-post to Instagram, apps need to be using Instagram’s Business API. This means that currently only Business accounts can schedule posts for auto publishing, so any apps offering to auto-publish your posts without connecting to the Business API are going against Instagram’s T&Cs, and should be avoided.

Tools which allow you to schedule posts in advance, such as Iconosquare, Later and Buffer etc. are approved by Instagram and comply with its terms of service. Iconosquare is actually an official partner of Instagram, so go ahead and give it a try! 😉

3. Using banned hashtags

There have been some recent developments regarding banned hashtags. At the beginning of the year, hashtags which had been ‘hijacked’ to display spammy or pornographic content would display a limited amount of posts. You might have been using a totally innocent hashtag to push your lovely content, such as #tgif, #boho, and even #dogsofinstagram (!) only for that particular hashtag to be taken over by people promoting ‘less lovely’ content, ruining things for everyone.

In the original version of this blog post, I recommended that using these banned hashtags could potentially result in a shadowban, or at least have a negative impact on your engagement, and advised removing any banned hashtags from your post. However, if you check those banned hashtags now, you’ll see that all associated content is displayed. You won’t find the ‘Recent posts from # have been hidden…” message. It seems all previously banned hashtags (that aren’t obviously pornographic or offensive) have actually been restored!

So, if you want to use #dogsofinstagram to share a photo of your #goodboye with the world, go ahead! Just use your discretion when it comes to hashtags and avoid any that could be deemed pornographic or offensive.

4. Overusing hashtags

Another innocent mistake that was previously thought to cost you your visibility and engagement on Instagram is using the same hashtags too often. I’m erring on the side of caution here and keeping this one in.

Although Instagram has said that using too many hashtags too often won’t effect your visibility, there’s a chance your content might get picked up on as spam, even if you’re simply using the same hashtags across your posts to maintain continuity.

So, be wary of posting exactly the same hashtags each time you post, and don’t rely too much on branded hashtags. This isn’t only to play it safe regarding a potential shadowban – using the same hashtags over and over again will limit the discoverability of your content regardless. To reach a wider audience and increase your chances of being discovered through the hashtag search, use a varied mix of relevant hashtags and keep an eye on which hashtags bring the most visitors to your Instagram, as these are the ones it makes sense to use often.

5. You’ve been reported!

If your account has been reported, Instagram could decide to shut it down – even if you don’t think you’ve broken any rules 😱

There have been cases in which brand accounts have been reported by competitors. Unfortunately, you can’t always know people’s motives for unfairly reporting your account. However, Instagram’s official policy is to review the content on your account to ensure it complies with their T&Cs before making a decision. If your account does get disabled and you’re not sure why, you can appeal Instagram’s decision and hopefully get your account up and running again.

But what about when your account gets reported and doesn’t get shut down? There has been talk that this can be one of the causes of a shadowban.

Does being reported actually have any impact on your reach and engagement?

Maybe. Maybe not. 🤷

Either way, avoiding posting offensive content or using bots or dodgy third party apps should keep this from happening.  If you stick to the rules, there shouldn’t be a problem. Ultimately, it’s unlikely Instagram is trying to catch anyone out. They want to keep people on the platform – that’s how they make their money!

How to remove the Instagram shadowban

If you’re still convinced your account has been shadowbanned, or you’re not 100% sure whether the Instagram shadowban is real but you want to play it safe, here’s a summary of what to do – and what not to do!

  • Don’t use bots to grow your followers or to automate engagement!
  • Avoid third party apps that don’t abide by Instagram’s terms of service, such as apps which post photos to your account directly without accessing Instagram’s Business API
  • Engage with your community organically. Put the time and effort in and leave meaningful comments. You get what you give!
  • Mix up the hashtags you’re using and make sure they’re relevant to your content (and not offensive)
  • Stick to Instagram’s T&C’s!

Following these tips are going to give you the best possible chance of maintaining a good level of visibility and engagement  so you can grow your account on the platform. Even if the Instagram shadowban isn’t what we originally thought it was, it doesn’t hurt to stay aware of the ground rules and the best practices, and keep an eye out for changes to the platform and/or your account. 

Have we missed anything? Do you have a different experience of the Instagram shadowban? Leave us a comment and let us know!

About the author
Caitlin Hughes

Caitlin Hughes

Caitlin is a Content Marketing expert at Iconosquare, based in Berlin. She’s passionate about creating ROI-driven content strategies and sharing her best tips on social media marketing. She’s also into true crime, loves ‘80’s music, and spends too much time online shopping.

More posts by Caitlin Hughes

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