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What is Shadow Banning? How it Works & How to Avoid it

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There are many benefits to social media, but there are also many downsides.

Many on social media are concerned about shadow banning, but what is shadow banning?

Shadow banning is an indirect censorship method that uses proprietary algorithms to restrict controversial content while keeping the person banned unaware of the ban.

Social media companies insist it is not used or only used on abusive accounts.

Others insist it gets employed often to suppress political viewpoints.

The truth is somewhere in the middle.

Shadow banning does exist, is used, and has been misused, but usually not intentionally.

Here is what shadow banning is and is not, and how it might affect you.

What is Shadow Banning?

Shadow banning is a method of censorship that uses blocking or partial blocking of user content by altering algorithms (such as search algorithms) to restrict who can see posted content.

image to illustrate what is shadow banning and how it works

The practice is shadow banning for the following reasons:

  • Not obvious to the poster shadow banned that their content is censored or restricted
  • Not an outright ban or a ban on specific individuals, but rather topics or terms
  • It can be used to suppress all content but usually targets content available to potential followers
  • It provides “plausible deniability” to those using it because it is not a specific ban

Is There Any Basis for the Idea That Conservatives Are Being Targeted for Shadow Bans?

It depends on who you ask. Hard evidence is difficult to come by.

Social media company execs say “no.”

Conservatives have experienced shadow banning more than most other groups, although that might be because of what conservatives post.

Is Shadow Banning Legal?

The short answer is yes.

You sign an agreement that lets the social media platform control (and usually own) all content you post or permit it to access.

The trade-off for you is that the agreement gets you free access to the platform.

While you can leverage social media for your own benefit, this is a double-edged sword.

If the platform wants, it can legally shadow ban or fully ban you.

Your options are to follow their policies or leave the platform.

The strictness of those options is partly why some conservatives have tried to start their own social media platforms, to varying success.

How Does Shadow Banning Work?

Altering an algorithm can prevent specific terms and topics from appearing in certain search results.

How each social media platform handles shadow banning is slightly different.

In most cases, only potential followers will be affected.

In some cases, the shadow banning is more direct and draconian.

No matter how it is applied, the effect is generally the same: Your content gets restricted, and who can see it, if anyone can, is reduced or even eliminated.

Meanwhile, you have no idea beyond a fall-off on engagement that anything is amiss.

How Shadow Banning Affects Engagement

Those alleging they are shadow banned often state that the ban affects their social media effectiveness because it limits engagement with:

  • Existing and potential followers
  • Potential followers

When this happens, the scope of a user’s impact is limited, which can affect their influence or income-making potential in some cases.

For example, if a political commentator is shadow banned, their scope of influence is affected, potentially depriving them of new users, advertisers, and association with other major media outlets.

Only Visible to Current Followers or Visitors

It depends on the social media platform (and the mechanism for shadow banning.)

The logic behind restricting content to potential users is that most users do not want to see content the platform deems spam or offensive.

Slows Growth

If potential users cannot see what a user posts, it limits that user’s ability to grow followers, friends, etc.

As mentioned, that can affect the sphere of influence of a user, which can directly affect how advertisers view them and, in the cases of political entities, how major media outlets like FoxNews regard them.

What Are Some Examples of Shadow Banning?

Perhaps the most infamous example, which Twitter maintains was a bug and conservatives insist was intentional, happened in 2018 when certain Republican accounts were shadow banned.

The shadow ban resulted in several prominent Republicans, including the head of the Republican National Committee, being banned.

Another example of shadow banning pertains to COVID-19 posts.

There have been several examples of this, most having to do with alleged “cures” of the virus.

What Are Some Sites That Shadow Ban?

Here is a summary of how different social media platforms allegedly handle shadow banning.

What is a Shadow Ban on Social Media?

It depends on the social media company.

Some say certain companies do not shadow ban, while others do.

Most admit social media companies will shadow ban in extreme cases (such as promoting fake COVID cures.)

What Do Social Media Companies Say About It?

This also depends on the company.

Facebook (Meta) is the only company that admits it outright shadow bans spam, although it is murkier whether it goes further than that.

All insist they do not restrict, ban or prohibit content based on political viewpoint.

Some disagree with that.

What Causes a Shadow Ban?

Here is a rundown of how you can get your content and scope restricted per platform.

  • On Instagram: Instagram will restrict based on content that violates its policies. It will restrict content prospects see.
  • On Twitter: Twitter does not shadow ban, per Twitter. It does rank search results and Tweets.
  • On Reddit: Reddit will restrict content access when it finds content violates its policies.
  • On Tik Tok: TikTok will restrict access to certain videos via the FYP and hashtags.
  • On Facebook: Facebook will restrict, ban and delete content it deems violates its policies.

How Long Does a Shadow Ban Last?

The following is the policy for major platforms for the length of any type of restriction or shadow ban on content.

  • On Instagram: Instagram restricts content, so there is no limit as it does not target specific accounts.
  • On Twitter: Twitter does not shadow ban but will rank your content, which can restrict what users see it. You can try changing your Twitter username, but the ban is usually applied at the account level, not the handle-level.
  • On Reddit: Reddit’s restrictions are largely subjective, so there is no limit on how long you can be restricted.
  • On Tik Tok: TikTok restricts based on content, which lasts about a week or two. You can uninstall and reinstall the app to get past a shadow ban.
  • On Facebook: There is no time limit. Most people find taking a break from posting for about a week can result in you being allowed to post with no restrictions.

How to Tell if You’ve Been Shadow Banned

The best way is your engagement is way off from normal.

After that, each platform has different ways to tell if you have been shadow banned.

  • On Instagram: Your new users will drop sharply as well as your engagement. You can also check a personalized hashtag you use, as your content will not appear there.
  • On Twitter: Search on “From USERNAME” on Twitter’s search bar. Your name goes under “USERNAME.” If you are shadow banned, your Tweets will not show up.
  • On Reddit: There are several ways to see if you are shadow banned on Reddit, although none are definitive or easy to implement.
  • On Tik Tok: The best way is to monitor your views and likes, which will drop sharply. The second way is with an uncommon hashtag test.
  • On Facebook: The best way is to monitor your engagement stats. Those will fall off dramatically if a post is restricted.

How to Get Unshadowbanned

The only way you can usually get “un shadow banned” is to follow the process the sites have as their internal policies regarding restricting content.

In most cases, taking a break and avoiding the topic that got you shadow banned is the best approach.

You will be cleared to post unless the site bans you outright.

With some platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, LinkedIn,) you can appeal to a moderator or help desk with varying degrees of success.

How to Avoid Getting Shadow Banned

The easiest way to avoid getting shadow banned is to follow the policies you agree to follow when you join a site or use the platform.

Final Thoughts

Shadow banning is a practice most social media platforms use, although how and why is somewhat arbitrary.

The best way to avoid getting shadow banned is to ensure your content does not violate the platform’s rules.

Whether these platforms target specific groups is also subjective, but likely, any restrictions have to do with content rather than affiliation.

Leave your inquiry in the comment section if you have any questions regarding shadow banning.

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