Is the Instagram Shadowban Killing Your Engagement? Here’s How to Fix It
Have you noticed your engagement dropping, follower count declining, or photos not showing up in hashtags? You might be a victim of the mysterious Instagram shadowban — and you wouldn’t even know it. Behaviour as innocent as using the same hashtag repeatedly could hide all of your Instagram posts from people who aren’t following you!
In the past few months, a growing number of users have been affected by the Instagram shadowban—and it’s killing their engagement! Never heard of a shadowban? In the following post, we explain exactly what the Instagram shadowban is, why it’s here, and how you can avoid it:
What is an Instagram Shadowban?
The term “shadowban” has been around since 2006, but it’s only recently that it’s gone mainstream. You may recognize it from Twitter—just two months ago, Twitter announced that it had begun filtering out abusive tweets on its platform by applying a sort of temporary “time-out” on users who broke their terms of service. In Twitter’s case, they actually inform their users that they’ve been shadowbanned, but, by definition, a shadowban is the act of blocking a user from an online community in such a way that they don’t realize that they’ve been banned.
On Instagram, a shadowban hides your Instagram posts from users who don’t follow you, which can be detrimental to growing your account and getting more followers. More specifically, if you get shadowbanned on Instagram and use hashtags in your post, only you and your current followers will see your post when they search for the hashtags you used. If someone who doesn’t follow your account searches for one of those hashtags, they won’t be able to see your post! Which basically defeats the whole purpose of using strategic hashtags to grow your Instagram community.
Given how important hashtags are for discovery on Instagram, getting shadowbanned can be a big problem. It basically means that you won’t be able to reach users who don’t already follow you. As a result, your follower growth and engagement rate could stagnate or even decline. And if you use Instagram for business, it can mean fewer customers and revenue!
What Causes an Instagram Shadowban?
Shadowbans exist to deter users from a specific kind of behavior—whether that’s being spammy, inappropriate, or even abusive. In the case of Instagram, the platform seems to mostly be targeting users who display spammy or inappropriate behavior.
What’s interesting, however, is that certain “non-spammy” behaviors have also been lumped-in as a way to get shadowbanned, such as using the same hashtags over and over again. In fact, on February 1st, Instagram released the following statement:
This is interesting because it’s the only time that Instagram has ever confirmed that an issue with hashtag search exists. However, rather than admitting to implementing a shadowban, Instagram simply describes it as “improvements to our system” and then offers advice about not relying on hashtags to grow your account. As Alex Tooby wrote in her blog post, this could be Instagram’s way of addressing the issue without admitting that they’ve actually implemented a shadowban. In fact, when pressed for more details about the issue, Instagram responded with the following explanation:
But it could also point to something bigger—maybe even a change to how Instagram generates revenue through paid ads. As we just mentioned, the whole point of a shadowban is to deter users from toxic behavior. This makes complete sense in the context of people using bots, auto-posting software, and other black hat strategies that Instagram has explicitly banned. But using the same hashtags over and over again doesn’t seem like the kind of offense that warrants a shadowban, it just means that you’re engaging with your Instagram community. Finding the best hashtags for your industry and using them consistently in your posts is all part of an effective Instagram marketing strategy! Or so everyone thought.
So why is Instagram penalizing accounts for using the same hashtags over and over? Some have made the point that it’s a way for Instagram to crack down on influencer marketing and force business accounts to invest in paid advertising. Think of it this way: hashtags are designed to get your content found. If Instagram wanted to quickly increase paid revenue on ads, what would be their best course of action? Probably to tinker with an account’s ability to reach a wider audience using hashtags.
How to Avoid the Instagram Shadowban: Tips from Alex Tooby
Instagram marketing expert Alex Tooby recently published an article on her blog with a ton of great points explaining why your account was shadowbanned and how to avoid being shadowbanned in the future. Here are 4 tips to keep in mind:
1. Don’t use banned or broken hashtags on your posts
With over 700 million active monthly users, it’s pretty difficult for Instagram to completely control what people share and what hashtags they use. A lot of times, a totally innocent hashtag can become invaded with inappropriate content—like the hashtag #kansas, for example. Last year, #kansas was banned by Instagram because too many users were using it on posts that violated Instagram’s community guidelines.
When something like this happens and Instagram notices, they’ll either block the hashtag outright, meaning you can’t even search for it on Instagram, or they’ll limit its usage. With the shadowban, however, it appears that even if you use just a single banned hashtag in your post, Instagram will prevent your post from appearing on any of the hashtags you used!
2. Don’t use software that violates Instagram’s terms of service:
Instagram recently updated it’s algorithm to be tougher on bots, including bots that auto-like, auto-comment, and bots that grow your followers. If you use any kind of automation or bot-like software on your account, there’s a good chance that a) Instagram knows, and b) you’re going to be shadowbanned.
Furthermore, if you use software that automatically posts to Instagram for you (this doesn’t include Later, which abides by Instagram’s terms and sends a push notification to your phone when it’s time to post), you’re also violating Instagram’s terms of service and could be at risk of not only getting shadowbanned, but getting your entire Instagram account banned.
3. Avoid big surges in your Instagram activity:
If you weren’t aware, there are limits on how many photos you can like, comments you can leave, and accounts you can follow or unfollow. However, everyone’s limits are different! According to AndroidTipster, your account’s ability to like, follow, and comment grows at the 3 months mark—but there are a ton of other factors that Instagram considers when determining your account’s daily limits. In any case, try not to exceed 150-200 likes, 60 comments, and 60 follows/unfollows per hour!
The reason Instagram imposes limits on user activity is to crack down on bots. If all of a sudden you follow 50 accounts, and then immediately unfollow 25 of them, Instagram might interpret this as “bot activity” and shadowban your account as a result.
4. Avoid being reported by other users:
According to Alex, another way to show up on Instagram’s shadowban radar is by getting reported by another user. It’s important to note that getting reported alone isn’t enough for Instagram to take action against your account—they would also have to determine that you actually violated their terms of service. However, if Instagram does determine that you’re at fault, they may fully disable ban account, or they might just shadowban you.
How to Find Out if You’re a Target of Instagram’s Shadowban:
Maybe you noticed that you aren’t getting as much engagement on your posts—or that your follower growth has suddenly leveled off. Because Instagram doesn’t say outright whether your account has been shadowbanned, there are only a couple of ways to know for sure:
1. Use someone else’s account:
The best way to find out if you’ve been shadowbanned is to check if your posts appear in hashtag searches. To do this, create a new post on Instagram and include 2-3 unpopular hashtags in the caption, and another 2-3 unpopular hashtags in the first comment.
Next, ask a friend to unfollow your account and then search for one of the hashtags that you used in your recent post. If your post appears under the hashtag (either in the Top Posts or Recent Posts) then you’re safe. If your post doesn’t show up, however, it’s likely that your account was shadowbanned.
2. Use an Instagram shadowban analyzer
You can also check if you’ve been shadowbanned by using this shadowban analyzer tool, however, it’s unclear how accurate the tool is. Simply enter your username or the link to a specific Instagram post to see if your account has been shadowbanned. It works by searching the list of hashtags you use in your posts, and then checking if your posts shows up in the hashtag’s feed. But be careful! If you have to login with your Instagram account, it could be a phishing scam. The tool above lets you search without having to login with your credentials.
How Can You Lift an Instagram Shadowban?
Try as we might, we haven’t been able to find a “fix all” solution to Instagram’s shadowban. However, the good news is that shadowbans don’t appear to be permanent—most users tend to get theirs lifted within 2-3 weeks.
Here are 5 solutions from Alex Tooby that could help shorten the length of your Instagram shadowban:
1. Stop using banned or broken hashtags
Look through your hashtag “sets” (i.e. the community-oriented hashtags that you frequently use) to make sure that none of them are “banned” by Instagram. To do this, simply search for the hashtag on Instagram. If the top posts section appears but nothing else, it’s likely that the hashtag was banned by Instagram. Sometimes Instagram will even leave a short message on a hashtag page explaining that posts have been hidden for not meeting the community guidelines.
If any of the hashtags you use were banned, make sure to stop using them! They could be preventing your posts from appearing on any of the hashtags you use!
2. Stop using bots and auto-posting software
We get it: using an Instagram scheduler that automatically posts your photos to Instagram sounds like a great way to save time. (Plus, once you get shadowbanned for using an auto-poster, you’ll have all the time in the world!). But it’s also one of the quickest ways to end up on the Instagram shadowban list.
Have you ever used a bot before? Even if you signed up for a bot service years ago, they could still be linked to your account. To find out, log into Instagram on your desktop computer to see if any of them are still connected to your account. Navigate to your feed by clicking the “user” icon in top right-hand corner, then click “Edit Profile.” Next, select “Authorized Applications.” From here, you can check for any applications that look suspicious.
3. Take a short break from Instagram
Some users have said that taking 2-3 days off of Instagram has helped them lift their Instagram shadowban. If you decide to take a break, avoid posting, commenting, and even logging-into the app!
After your 2-3 day break, you can start engaging with Instagram community again like you normally would. But remember to engage with them manually! It might take more time and effort, but it proves to Instagram that you’re abiding by their terms of service.
4. Report your shadowban to Instagram
Both Instagram and Facebook can be very difficult to get in touch with—believe us, we’ve tried! But reporting your shadowban to Instagram is definitely worth a shot.
Instagram does have an official support email (email@example.com), but it’s a much better idea to use the native “Report a Problem” option within the Instagram app. To do this, simply navigate to your Instagram profile and select the “cog” icon in the top right-hand corner of the screen. Next, scroll down and select “Report a Problem.” A pop-up should appear with a few options. Select “Something Isn’t Working,” and write a short message that clearly describes the issue.
Alex Tooby recommends that you tell Instagram that your posts aren’t being categorized in the hashtags that you use, not that your engagement has dropped. Meanwhile, Magoptix Studio recommends against telling Instagram that your account was hacked, as the team that deals with hacked accounts doesn’t seem to be able to help with shadowbans.
5. Switch from a business account to a personal account
We’re least certain about this one, but some Instagram users have said that switching from a business account to a personal account helped them lift their Instagram shadowban.
The reason this might work is because ever since Facebook acquired Instagram, they’ve tried to monetize the platform by limiting the reach and engagement of business accounts. This, in effect, forces businesses to purchase ads.
Continuing the narrative above, it could be that Instagram is clamping down on business accounts because they’re more likely to be negatively impacted by a shadowban—and, likewise, more likely to buy ads on Instagram. So by switching from a business account to a personal account, it’s possible that you might fall off Instagram’s radar.
For a lot of Instagram users, hashtags are one of the best ways to grow your engagement and attract new followers. And while Instagram has yet to confirm or deny a shadowban, it’s important to be conscious of how you behave on the platform to avoid being penalized. We’ll continue to update you as the Instagram shadowban story unfolds!
Ready to jump-start your Instagram engagement? Later makes it easy for you to plan, manage, and schedule your Instagram posts!
Correction: the original post did not give proper attribution to some sections of this article. We made a mistake, and we’ve since given Alex Tooby the proper credit she deserves.
Here at Later, we are proud to collaborate with the best Instagram experts, and always want to give credit where credit is due. We sincerely regret this error and will work harder to make sure it doesn’t happen again.