Instagram Shadow Ban

How Instagram’s Shadow Ban Ruined My Engagement and How Your Account May Be Affected

Instagram has made a ton of changes to their algorithm over the past year and with that many of us saw a decline in our engagement and following. However, I was not worried initially  because I knew that I had been using all of the proper strategies to continue to grow my account and engagement, including:

  • Posting quality content
  • Regularly engaging with my audience
  • Utilizing hashtags
  • Posting at the optimal times

How I Learned I Was Banned

Although I had noticed a dip in my follower growth in the past few months nothing prepared me for what I learned just a few days ago.  It all started with the below photo I posted to @VoiceOfHair. I knew that it was an engaging post because my audience has always liked photos of cute kids and because it received over 7,000 likes as seen below.

How adorable is this style on @christyanaking ?#voiceofhair

A post shared by VoiceOfHair (Stylists/Styles) (@voiceofhair) on

But something odd stood out to me.

A few hours later, after I went to look at the hashtags I used (posted in my comments) to see how the post performed, I realized that I didn’t see my post there. I knew that some of the hashtags I had used were popular and maybe I just didn’t see my post amidst all of the other photos/videos that were posted– bu that wasn’t the case.  My photo had actually disappeared…as in…it wasn’t even there!

What is a Shadow Ban and How Does It Work

By then I started to panic so I turned to google for answers.  It turns out that other people have experienced the same thing, what is known as the Instagram Shadow Ban.

According to the Urban Dictionary, a shadow ban is:

Banning a user from a web forum in such a way that the banned user is unaware of the ban. Usually takes the form of showing that user’s posts/profile/etc. only to that user; other users never see them.

The way Instagram’s shadow ban appears to work is that it does not allow people who are not following you to see your posts show up in the hashtag search.  This is why I was able to still get over 7,000 likes, since my audience is over 312K.  The issue is that Instagram limited my organic reach to new followers by banning my post from the hashtags.

After doing a little research I came across this website: shadowban.azurewebsites.net  that lets you analyze your posts to see if they’ve been banned on Instagram.  I then started to look through my previous posts to see if they have all been banned.  The bad news was that all  of my previous posts had been banned, but the good news was that Instagram did allow my post to show up in one hashtag consistently, and that was my branded hashtag, #voiceofhair.

The Instagram shadow ban doesn’t ban  at the account level, it bans at the post level.

Instagram Shadow Ban

Why would Instagram allow my posts to be seen under #voiceofhair but none of the other hashtags?  Thankfully, there is a simple answer.  The way I typically post content is to put a description of the post in the caption and then put all my hashtags in the comments.  However one thing I always do is put my branded hashtag (#voiceofhair) in the caption, as seen below.

Instagram Shadow Ban ruined my engagement

After doing some deductive reasoning I realized that Instagram was only banning the photos where I had put my hashtags in the comments BUT my content was being published to all of the hashtags that I included in my actual caption.

After I realized this I decided to do a test and put my hashtags in the caption of my post and voila…the ban was lifted and I received strong engagement on my next post.

Instagram Shadow Ban

Things that Could Get Your Account Banned

Thank God! I had figured out how to avoid being banned.  However, this begs the question: What did I do to get banned in the first place?

No one (other than Instagram) knows how the ban is applied: whether it be a manual ban by an administrator or an algorithm that causes the ban. Regardless of how it’s applied there are a few things that are frowned on by Instagram that could be the reason why your posts may not be showing up in the hashtags:

  1. Using Unapproved Bots and Automated Tools & Buying Followers: Instagram doesn’t like 3rd party apps that post on your behalf, such as Instagress (which was recently shut down by Instagram)  and other apps that post, like or follow on your behalf.  This is strictly against Instagram’s terms and agreement.
  2.  Using the same hashtags for an extended period of time: Instagram may think you are a spam account if you use the same hashtags on all your posts for a long time.
  3. Posting Hashtags in The Comments: This is  the reason why my posts were banned.  I’m not sure why this is frowned upon by Instagram.  This may not cause your posts to be banned but this could be the reason if your posts have been banned.
  4. Using broken hashtags:  Some of the hashtags in the Instagram community get abused and when that happens instagram will limit the number of posts (for all users) displayed by that hashtag.  You will know if a hashtag is broken if you don’t see any of the “top 9” posts  listed.  If you see that happen chances are that if you scroll to the bottom of the hashtag search you’ll see a notice that looks like this: “Recent posts from #ginger are currently hidden because the community has reported some content that may not meet Instagram’s community guidelines.”
  5. A Surge in Follows/Unfollows: I haven’t experienced this but I do know that if you follow or unfollow too many accounts within an hour then Instagram will think you are a bot. If that happens your account will be on lockdown and you could be blocked for days or even longer.

What To Do If Your Posts Have Been Banned

It’s a scary feeling knowing that Instagram is blocking your content from others.  However, there are a few things I recommend trying to ensure future posts will not be banned:

  1. Stop using all automated software and bots that aren’t on the Instagram Approved App List.  If you are unsure of whether an app is approved you can just go to your account on your desktop and click to see what 3rd party apps have access. Revoke any that do not look legit!  If you are using an unapproved app it will not show up on this list, so then you should probably stop using it.  You can learn more about how to do that here.
  2. Put your hashtags in the captions instead of the comments. As I mentioned before, this worked for me.
  3. Switch up your hashtags if you’ve been using the same one.  Try to change the order and types of hashtags and test it with this site to see if it’s working.

I hope these tips helped.  If you’ve been banned let me know if you’ve been able to get around it and if you know why!

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About the Author Brandelyn

Brandelyn Green is a social media strategist who has cracked the code on growing an online community. As founder of @VoiceOFHair, on online platform to help women of color find the best hairstylists and hairstyles, she was able to grow her instagram account from 0 to 100K in 1 year and currently has a community of over 500K+ women (Instagram, Facebook & Pinterest). She is a consultant and coach for business owners who are looking to grow their business through social media.

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