In the past few years, social media platforms have experienced tremendous growth. Social networks are more than happy to welcome new users. However, more users mean it’s harder to keep track of everyone’s behavior on the site.
When it comes to social media, if you don’t play by the rules, you don’t get to use the platform. This is made pretty clear to all users. However, there has been one practice that has been shrouded in mystery for years, so much so that users are confused as to if it actually exists or not.
We are, of course, talking about shadowbanning. So, what is shadowbanning? And what can you do to prevent a social media platform from shadowbanning you?
What Is Shadowbanning?
Social media platforms can ban users in a few different ways. Either you lose access to your account for a short period of time, or indefinitely. They can also ban you from making a new account if the offense was serious enough for an IP ban, which is when the platform shuts you out based on your IP address.
These bans have one thing in common, and that is that the users know that they have been banned. This is precisely what sets shadowbanning apart. Shadowbanning, also known as ghost banning, or stealth banning, is commonly defined as the practice of blocking a user or their content, fully or partially, in a way that it will not be obvious to the user.
This way, the user retains access to their account and can see posts from other users. They can even post as usual, but the social network partially or completely “shadows” the posts, making them invisible to other users. Shadowbanning is different from Facebook’s shadow profiles, which have also been in the news lately.
The practice dates back to the 1980s when the bulletin board services started employing toggles to grant different users different privileges. One of these toggles was called the “twit bit,” which restricted a user’s privileges for not following the rules. This was to ensure that the troublemakers either left or started following the rules.
This is pretty much the concept behind the modern day phenomenon of shadowbanning. However, the mystery is whether the practice actually really exists in a tangible form.
Are People Really Getting Shadowbanned?
In the last few years, there have been numerous claims of shadowbanning across different social media platforms. With the politically charged environment making it harder than ever to distinguish genuine news from fake news, social media platforms have been accused of having a bias. And using shadowbanning to silent the opinions they dislike.
Shadowbanning on Twitter
A large number of users have claimed that Twitter has shadowbanned them. The claims began in 2016, with accusations that Twitter was shadowbanning people that supported the Republican Party in the U.S.
However, the situation escalated in 2018, after Vice News claimed that Twitter was shadowbanning prominent Republican politicians, which was soon followed by a tweet from the President of the United States of America, Donald Trump.
Twitter “SHADOW BANNING” prominent Republicans. Not good. We will look into this discriminatory and illegal practice at once! Many complaints.
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) July 26, 2018
Twitter was quick to respond, and while Vice News said that Twitter had “fixed” the shadowbans, Twitter claimed in a blog post that they have never actually used the practice. The blog post said that Twitter instead used ranking, which ranked tweets from “bad-faith actors”.
Apparently, Twitter determines these according to several factors which have to do with the authenticity of the account, and how the one uses the account.
Twitter also claimed that political affiliation wasn’t one of these factors and that there was no shadowbanning happening, but rather just a bug which affected hundreds of thousands of accounts, not letting them appear in search auto-suggestions. Twitter resolved this issue, but the accusations continue.
Shadowbanning on Instagram
Instagram has had more than its fair share of complaints from users about how their posts reach only a few of their followers. The shadowban claims began in 2017. This happened after posts from some users stopped appearing for users that did not follow them, especially under the hashtag search.
Many users claimed that this was shadowbanning. Instagram responded with a Facebook post that essentially asked the users to make better content. The post didn’t even acknowledge the concept of shadowbanning.
We understand users have experienced issues with our hashtag search that caused posts to not be surfaced. We are…
However, this did not convince everyone. Instagram support has been notorious for not having any channels for its customers to reach out. If you follow some smaller accounts on Instagram with a few thousand followers, you might have seen them complain about low reach all of a sudden.
It could have happened to you, too, where an Instagram story posted by you had lesser views than you expected. This might not necessarily be shadowbanning. Instagram’s algorithm is known to be broken and difficult for users, and the number of complaints has only increased since Instagram last addressed it.
Shadowbanning on Facebook
Facebook is the world’s biggest social network. Users have accused the social media giant of prioritizing advertisers over users, for years. These concerns expanded into shadowbanning, especially in 2018. Many users complain about their posts and comments suddenly getting no reactions.
Facebook is also one of the biggest platforms for news sharing, which complicates this topic. The social media platform has the giant task of curating news content while filtering out the fake news. However, users claim that the social network has an inherent bias. Facebook has provided a clarification from their end.
Instead, we demote individual posts etc. that are reported by FB users and rated as false by fact checkers. This means they lose around 80% of any future views. We also demote Pages and domains that repeatedly share false news.
— Facebook (@facebook) July 12, 2018
In 2018, Facebook co-founder and CEO Mark Zuckerberg testified in front of Congress, and said that Facebook supports free speech. He also claimed that Facebook is working on ensuring they flag only the fake news and not merely unpopular opinions. So if we are to believe Facebook, they don’t shadowban people. It’s only the flaws in its algorithm to battle harmful content that can accidentally restrict some users.
Zuckerberg has assured users that they are constantly working on the flaws. Facebook also revealed how to get banned from Facebook for breaking the rules, which offers a little more clarity.
How to Avoid Getting Shadowbanned
Every platform has a set of rules to follow, mostly referred to as community guidelines. Most of the guidelines are common sense at this point. However, there is a small chance one could accidentally violate these guidelines without realizing it.
The most important part is to not post explicit or offensive content or news from unverified sources. As far as comments go, for the most part, you just have to be nice.
Social Networks will also flag you for suspicious activity. That means you need to have your account details up to date, and your email verified. You also have to ensure that you aren’t posting in a manner that makes you look like a spammer or bot. Using banned hashtags is also a bad idea if you want to avoid being shadowbanned.
There is no real way to determine if social media networks are really trying to shut down opinions they don’t like, or just trying to ensure that the content users are putting out is safe for everyone. Either way, the onus is on us as users to be careful and stick to the rules, or we risk being silenced.
If you’re considering voluntarily quitting social media, check out our article to find out what to expect from doing so.
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