When you're trying to grow a following on Instagram, you depend on Explore and hashtag pages to expand your audience and reach. So it can feel more than a little disheartening when it suddenly seems like your content isn't showing up anywhere.
If you feel like your posts are receiving fewer likes and comments suddenly, or aren't appearing for certain hashtags or on the Explore page, you might be shadowbanned.
An Instagram shadowban refers to the act of hiding or restricting a user's content without informing the user that it's happening. This typically occurs when a user has violated Instagram’s community guidelines — or the content is otherwise deemed inappropriate. If you're shadowbanned, your content won't appear on anyone's feed, Explore, or hashtag pages unless they already follow you.
From Instagram's perspective, the objective of hiding "inappropriate" content makes sense (although its enforcement has been criticized.) Shadowbanning allows Instagram to filter out accounts that don't comply with their terms. Some people use inauthentic measures to expand their Instagram following, like buying followers or using hundreds of hashtags that are irrelevant to their content. If that's the case, it makes sense that Instagram hides content from those accounts so that only genuine and helpful content is promoted to users.
While Instagram doesn't openly admit to shadowbanning, they released a statement on their Facebook business page in February 2019 that addressed the problem users were having with their content not showing up for certain hashtags.
Their statement at least confirms the hashtag dilemma as a real one — but many speculate that the statement is Instagram's way of admitting to shadowbanning, without actually admitting it.
However, shadowbanning could be a real tactic meant to hide users' content from the wider Instagram audience, and if you're being shadowbanned, it's important you take the necessary measures to get your content seen.
Let's explore how to know if you're shadowbanned, as well as our tips for getting yourself off the list.
Luckily, there's an easy test to figure out if your account is shadowbanned.
Am I shadowbanned on Instagram?
First, post an image with a hashtag that isn't often used. (If you use a hashtag that has millions of posts associated with it, it'll be hard to tell if content is banned, or just hidden by competition). Once you've posted, ask five employees or people who don't follow you to search the hashtag. If none of them see your post in those results, you've likely been shadowbanned.
If one or two of your employees can see your post, you might simply be dealing with a drop in engagement. If that's the case, you can take a number of steps to fix this.
Check out our Instagram Marketing: The Ultimate Guide for tactical advice on improving your reach and engagement.
While the method above is a simple way to test whether you've been shadowbanned, it may not be feasible for your business. Maybe you're the sole proprietar and employee of your small business. In that case, you can't ask employees to check their hashtag feeds and you might not want to ask your customers. Below are other ways you can test whether you've been shadowbanned.
Instagram Shadowban Test
There is no foolproof test to tell if you've been shadowbanned on Instagram. While there are tools that advertise they can do exactly that, these tools are not reliable. Instead, try the steps below.
Check your hashtag pages.
If you look at pages of hashtags you regularly use and see a message that posts have been hidden, it's possible you've been shadowbanned for using those hashtags.
Take a look at the message below for the hashtag "mustfollow." Since users reported recent posts using this hashtag as not meeting Instagram's community guidelines, it's possible Instagram may be hiding your content with this hashtag (even if yours is not in violation of any guidelines).
Check Instagram Insights.
Looking at Instagram Insights, if you notice a sudden and sustained drop in engagement, then it's possible you've been shadowbanned. One of the best metrics to look at is percent of accounts reached that weren't following you.
Take a look at the difference in "discovery" of the two posts below. This blogger duo went from reaching over 70K accounts, 32% of which weren't following them, to reaching a little over 40K, of which only 4% weren't already following them. This drop cued the bloggers in that their account had been shadowbanned.
If you believe you've been shadowbanned, don't worry — we have a solution for you.
Why am I shadowbanned?
There are a few potential reasons your account could have been shadowbanned. To ensure this doesn't happen again, let's explore some actions you might have taken that led you to being shadowbanned.
1. You use bots or another automated "Instagram growth" tool.
If you aren't putting in the hard work yourself, you're not growing a following authentically. Instagram frowns on this — in their statement above, for instance, they encourage users to have a strategy that focuses on connecting with the right audience. Using bots is a spammy tactic, and could result in a shadowban.
2. You use broken hashtags.
Occasionally, a popular hashtag will become overrun with inappropriate content. When this happens, Instagram can remove the hashtag or limit its use. If you use a broken hashtag, it will prevent your other hashtags from ranking, and could also result in a blocked account.
3. Your account is often reported.
When users repeatedly report an account, Instagram will assume your account is posting inappropriate content or violating their terms of service. They might disable your account, or they could shadowban it.
4. You've been posting, commenting, engaging, or following people too quickly.
Instagram places time constraints on how often you can follow, unfollow, like, comment, or post within an hour or day. This makes sense — if you're following 80 people within an hour, it's likely a bot doing the work, not you.
These actions might help you grow a following quickly, but they can't help you connect with the right people, which is why you're on Instagram in the first place. Additionally, these behaviors likely result in shadowban, which severely restricts your exposure to a new audience.
How to Get Unshadowbanned
To get your account back to normal, you'll want to reverse the damage. Here's how:
If you use a bot or another automated service, stop and delete it immediately.
To make sure the accounts aren't still attached to you, go to your desktop Instagram and click "Edit Profile", and then "Apps and Websites". If you see any of your bot accounts in the Active tab, click "Remove" to remove them from your account completely.
Remember, it's better to have 100 followers who love your brand and purchase your products, than 1,000 followers who never buy from you or interact with your content.
Don't use hashtags that have been banned.
Take a look at Markitor's list of banned hashtags for 2021, and make sure to remove all broken hashtags from your content. Here's a few from the list:
Moving forward, be selective and careful with the hashtags you choose, and when in doubt, take a look at the hashtag's page — Instagram will likely post a message like, "Recent posts from #summer2020 are currently hidden … ", which will indicate to you that the hashtag is no longer in use.
Take a two-day break.
People have reported a full 48-hour break from using their Instagram accounts can reset the system and get you back on track, and it's worth the temporary social media cleanse anyway, isn't it?
Follow Instagram's rules and regulations.
Only share content you created or have permission to share
Don't post content that's false or misleading
Do share content that's appropriate for anyone to see
The Foolproof Way to Avoid the Instagram Shadowban
The simplest way to avoid being shadowbanned on Instagram is to post helpful, authentic content, and abide by best practices when growing your audience. It will take longer to do this, but slow and steady wins the race — and doesn't get shadowbanned.
Editor's note: This post was originally published in August 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.