Why is my Twitter count dropping

Shadowban on Instagram, Twitter & Co - What is happening there?

Hardly any likes and comments, the range as if swallowed by the ground? A shadowban could be to blame. We explain what that is.

For no apparent reason, the number of comments collapses, photos and tweets get significantly fewer likes and not as much is shared anymore, although the number of followers remains stable. Many users of social media platforms are familiar with the phenomenon, either because they have experienced it on their own accounts or read about it on others. But what does it mean?

What is a shadowban?

"Shadowban" is the name given to the fact when a user or individual posts are blocked by an online community. The user is not blocked by other users, but by Twitter or Instagram themselves. Posts and comments can then no longer be found using the search function and, for example, no longer appear on Instagram's “Explore Page”.

For the user himself, however, all functions of the platform can usually be used normally and posts are visible to everyone on the user's profile. Therefore it is not immediately obvious to the user that he is affected by a shadowban.

Shadowbans are used when someone shares supposedly problematic content. This content should be made invisible, at the same time it should be avoided that users log out or trolls create new accounts.

Other names for a shadowban are shadow banning, stealth banning, ghost banning or comment ghosting.

Shadowban myth: is it even real?

It is more or less controversial whether there is such a thing as shadow banning at all. This is mainly due to the fact that the operators of the social media platforms do not confirm or deny this. Many users, however, see it as proven from their day-to-day experience.

The term is often, but not exclusively, used in conservative and right-wing extremist interest groups. They assume that they are particularly affected by shadow banning and see it as a kind of ideological censorship.

In fact, in many suspected cases, the question arises where the line between shadowban and censorship runs. After all, a shadowban, because an account may spread spam, is somewhat different from censorship, which is supposed to make certain political points of view invisible.

There have been many complaints about this in recent years, particularly via Twitter. One thing is certain: Twitter has an interface by default that government authorities around the world can use to have certain content or accounts censored. Twitter itself publishes statistics on this in transparency reports. A study presented at the “Workshop on Privacy in the Electronic Society” that examined Turkish tweets from late 2014 to early 2015, however, came to the conclusion that Twitter censored significantly more tweets than officially stated. Most of the censored tweets had political content and, in particular, anti-government content. (1) In the USA, Twitter is said to have deliberately withheld reports of a drone attack by Shadowban (2).

In 2018, however, the rumors about shadowbans mixed with conspiracy-theoretical tendencies, according to which Twitter is said to have banned tweets from Republicans (3). Donald Trump fueled these rumors; Twitter denies shadowbanning and various media outlets such as the New York Times argue against this practice (4). In fact, a "shadowban" is only actually active in rare cases. Much more often, people don't understand the platform they're using.

Twitter explained in a blog post in May 2018 that it evaluates user behavior in order to maintain a healthy culture of conversation. Specifically, contributions from so-called trolls should be less visible, so that there are fewer complaints. Twitter made it clear in this post that it will hide posts if they don't contribute to a positive conversation even though they meet the guidelines. This is at least partially consistent with the definition of shadow banning.

Facebook also uses such a technology and in July 2019 even received a patent for a technology that makes it possible to hide comments from other users without the commenter noticing (5). This works on the basis of a list of prohibited content.

Twitter, Facebook, Instagram - no network would describe the techniques used as “shadowban”. However, it seems clear that certain content can actually be automatically hidden if it is classified as inappropriate by the platform. This can be considered censorship, but it can also be interpreted positively if it causes trolls and spam accounts to lose their relevance.

Sign: Shadowban test

A decline in interactions and growth is often more related to a changed algorithm of the platform than to a shadowban. However, if you suspect that you are affected by a shadowban, you can test it yourself. There are now various providers of shadowban tests online, but they are usually designed to sell you something.

Typical characters for a shadowban

  • Fewer likes than usual
  • Fewer comments than usual
  • Comments and likes only come from followers, no longer from non-followers
  • No new followers are added or you even lose some.

It is also typical of a Shadowban that you do not notice any effects even when using the platform. You can post normally, like and share other posts. Only your reach and your interaction rate decrease.

Perform the Shadowban test yourself

1. Find someone with an Instagram or Twitter account who isn't following you.

2. Post or tweet on Instagram. Use hashtags that you would otherwise also use.

3. Ask the other person to immediately look under the hashtags used to see if your post appears there.

If your post does not appear there, have the other person check again after 3 to 5 minutes. If you do show up there, you are definitely not affected by a shadowban. If not, this indicates a shadowban.

Important: The posts in a hashtag feed are displayed chronologically. Some hashtags are more popular than others; on Twitter, this is especially true of hashtags on current trends. The greater the number of posts with this hashtag, the faster the hashtag feed needs to be checked. For example, 1.2 billion posts are currently displayed under the hashtag #instagood, and around 600 #instagood posts are added every minute. In a matter of seconds, your post can slide down the feed so far that it doesn't seem to be found. If you generally use such "big" hashtags, you should rethink your strategy and focus on more relevant niche hashtags.

Reasons for a Shadowban

You or your contribution has been reported

If your profile or one of your posts is reported (multiple times) as "inappropriate", the post will be automatically removed without Instagram having to manually check whether the post really violates guidelines. But you should also honestly ask yourself whether there is actually any content that gives rise to such a report. If you cannot explain the message, please contact Instagram customer service. Justify, for example with screenshots, why your contribution was wrongly reported.

You are using an insecure bot

A bot is a program that automatically processes recurring tasks. There are, for example, Instagram bots that automatically like posts in the feed and thus increase their own visibility. The use of bots does not automatically lead to a shadow ban. But if you use bots that are classified as unsafe by Instagram or if the bots exceed certain interaction thresholds, a shadowban can occur because Instagram classifies you as a spam account. The solution: do without your bot and see if there is any improvement.

Banned Hashtags - Banned hashtags

In addition to the question of whether the Shadowban itself is even real, there are other myths surrounding the topic. For example in the case of "banned hashtags". Allegedly there are a number of hashtags that are permanently or temporarily blocked by social media platforms and whoever uses these hashtags risks a shadow ban.

Screenshot: Katrin Klingschat, taken on November 3rd, 2020 in the Instagram hashtag feed for the hashtag "#beautyblogger", https://www.instagram.com/explore/tags/beautyblogger/?hl=de

That, for example, Instagram hides posts on certain hashtags, was confirmed during the research for this article. Reasons for this are reported content that may violate community guidelines and enormous spam under a hashtag.

There is no official statement or even a list from Instagram itself. If you see blocked hashtags as a risk and want to be on the safe side, you have to manually check all hashtags yourself using the search function. If the message shown above appears in the hashtag feed ("Current posts [...] are currently hidden ..."), it should be a blocked hashtag. Various lists with such hashtags can be found online, but they are not always reliable.

Further reasons for a supposed shadowban:

  • Buy from fans, followers or reactions
  • Too frequent use of a hashtag (suspected spam)
  • Overactivity (many posts posted in a short period of time, many users followed / unfollowed, many posts liked, etc.)

Anyone who suspects they have been affected by a shadow ban should question their own account and content, use other hashtags, avoid automated services and try a new posting strategy. In many cases, this can already be helpful in increasing your own reach again.

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