What is shadowbanning? Influencers accuse social media sites of using shady tactic

Kelsey Weekman
·6-min read

Which sounds better to you: “I’ve been shadowbanned” or “People just aren’t as interested in my content as they used to be”?

Probably the former, right? “Shadowban” is an elusive term with a menacing ring to it. The word “shadow” implies dark and shifty actions, and the word “ban” implies something has been done to you against your will.

What does shadowban mean and what does it look like?

“Shadowban” is an unofficial term used to describe how social media sites allegedly block a user’s content in such a way that the user does not know it is happening. It’s not new at all. The moderation tactic has been used since the “early days of the web,” according to Vice News.

Sometimes social media sites limit a user’s reach because of a guideline violation, but users are notified of that change. Shadowbans happen in, well, the shadows. Because of this, there aren’t straightforward guidelines about how and why this happens — or how to make it stop.

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Perhaps one of the most popular allegations of shadowbanning came from fans of YouTube’s second-biggest creator, PewDiePie, in October 2020.

When viewers attempted to find his massive, 150 million-subscriber channel, it did not appear. The YouTuber himself, whose name is Felix Kjellberg, warned his fans that his latest video was not appearing in people’s subscription boxes.

Inconsistent notifications plague YouTube from time to time, but rumors that the platform was trying to stifle one of its most powerful creators, who notably faced fallout after being accused of amplifying antisemitic rhetoric in Feburary 2017, began to swirl.

YouTube commentator TheQuartering said the platform decided to prohibit Kjellberg from “interacting with an online community.”

YouTube eventually fixed the apparent bug, but not before instilling fear in its creators.

“Well we all know YouTube is likely to say it was ‘just a glitch’ but if they can do this to the platform’s largest creator what’s to stop them from coming for us?” TheQuartering said in the caption of the video.

What does shadowbanning look like on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter?

YouTube has said time and time again that it does not purposefully shadowban anyone — most recently on March 10 in response to a user who said their videos aren’t showing up anymore.

“It’s possible the video was flagged by our systems as potentially violative and needs to be reviewed first before it shows up in search, etc.,” the TeamYouTube Twitter account wrote.

Disappearing from search and other discovery platforms seems to be a side effect of having content flagged on YouTube and other social media sites. Users aren’t notified of that investigation, though, which gives the account limitations that “shadowy” feeling.

One easy way to tell if you’ve been shadowbanned on any platform is to use a hashtag in a post then search that hashtag to see if that post appears. This looks the same on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram and Twitter, in spite of their many different algorithms.

If your reach, views and likes start plummeting, it’s time to look into what could have gotten flagged on your account.

How can you fix a shadowban?

Bad numbers don’t always signal you’ve been shadowbanned, though. You might just be losing interest. Before you start investigating backend activity, assess your own posts.

Instagram expert @heyDominik offered advice on his YouTube channel to people who think they might be mysteriously blocked from feeds.

“Be honest with yourself: Is this actually a good post?” he said in his video. “You only have a split second to get people out of autopilot.”

Countless commenters expressed their frustration with their apparent shadowbans.

“The sheer amount of engagement drop. This s*** is really stressing me out,” one user said.

“I used to get 30,000 to 90,000 views , but now only 3,000 to 7,000 views,” another wrote.

Dominik said any concerned creators should check out their past posts for engagement trends to see what posts do best and assess if their recent posts were up to snuff.

Also, he recommended checking to make sure none of those posts could have violated community guidelines, thus resulting in suppressed content while Instagram investigates.

To break free of an apparent shadowban, he suggested promoting all your posts for a few days, and making sure you post a lot while steering clear of shady, spammy, bot-like activity, which Instagram is quick to block.

“Don’t be butthurt about it,” he said. “It’s just the natural cycle of social media.”

What is a shadowban on TikTok specifically and how can you get rid of it?

The way TikTok selects and serves videos to its users is different from that of other social media apps. Though widely praised for its accuracy, it’s elusive.

Creators can spend years building up an audience on Twitter and YouTube and never achieve the same reach of a single, random TikTok post. Its “For You” page serves content from all sorts of creators regardless of whether or not people follow them, so an account with 50 followers could easily have a video garner 1 million views.

TikTok expert Jade Darmawangsa shared her advice for fellow TikTokers who feel like they’re getting “absolutely no views.”

It’s hard to know if you’re being shadowbanned on an app that rarely surfaces content in the first place.

First, she said, make sure you’re following all her tips. Make sure your content is loopable and easy to watch, stay on top of trends, collaborate with other users and make sure you’re staying on the fun and entertaining side of things without trying too hard.

“I believe TikTok is jus trying to prevent spammy and supsicious creators from destroying their platform,” she said.

To avoid being shadowbanned, don’t make multiple accounts to like your own content, don’t log in to the same account on multiple devices and don’t create content that violates TikTok’s aggressive community guidelines.

Darmawangsa shared an example of one of her posts that showed her cutting her hair and got flagged for possible violence just because she was holding scissors. Simply mimicking a hazardous act can have stifling consequences.

Unfortunately, her advice for breaking free of a TikTok shadowban isn’t as actionable as it is for other sites.

“You just have to be patient,” she said. “That’s just how the platform currently is.”

Shadowbans are inherently mysterious, and because of that, breed conspiracy theories. Experts agree, though: The best way to avoid a shadowban on any platform is just to follow the rules, and the best way to break out of one is to prove you’ll keep doing so.

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