Is the Instagram shadowban real?

A shadowban is the idea that the Instagram algorithm is limiting the visibility of your posts, deliberately and consistently because of something you have done. Many people link it to hashtags and say that when they post their image, they are not being found under those hashtags. This would limit the amount of likes and engagement on their posts as people would not find them via discovery when searching.

The concept first started swirling around in 2017 after a series of updates to Instagram's algorithms that may or may not have changed the reach and engagement of accounts for a number of reasons.

I find this conversation particularly interesting because I know people who swear they have been shadowbanned and can describe the exact details of the limitations imposed. It's true that you can get yourself put in the 'naughty corner' and even the best of us have had that happen once or twice by accident. So I've done a little digging to help you understand what it's all about and how you can avoid getting yourself in trouble.

What Instagram says about the existence of the shadowban

It's not true. The explanation is that there is an algorithmic search applied to hashtags. So when I search a particular hashtag, what I see will be different to what you see if you perform the same search. The details of how that particular algorithm works is not known. 

Shadowban aside, are there any rules that you do need to follow on Instagram?

The short answer is yes, absolutely. Here are some of the things you should know.

Banned hashtags

There are over 100,000 hashtags that are 'banned' from use because they are consistently used by dodgy and pornographic accounts. The hard part is working out what these hashtags are because they are not always obvious. For example #desk #easter and #pushups are on the list. If you use these hashtags a lot or if you use multiple ones in your posts you might find your content is demoted. There is no definitive list available and it changes regularly because the kinds of accounts that are causing the trouble are slippery and keep moving...I mean #easter for goodness sake!

So do your research please. If you search a hashtag and it says "no hashtags found" it's likely that it's banned. You can click on it and there might be a few posts greyed out with a message that says that posts are hidden because they don't comply with Instagram's community guidelines.

Why did my account get paused?

This is a common complaint. It's not clear when you start out on Instagram what the 'rules' are, unless you are one of those people who actually read the T&Cs. It's surprisingly easy to get your account paused. This will be for a minimum of 24 hours and, depending on why and how often you've done it before, it can last much longer. Your account will get paused if the algorithm notices behaviour it thinks is suspicious or spammy. Below are some of the rules that you should know.

Some of the Instagram rules you may not be aware of

  • There is 7,500 limit on the number of accounts you can follow. If you get to that many, firstly that is crazy and secondly you'll have to unfollow a few before you can follow new ones.
  • There are limits to the number of accounts you can follow hourly or daily but no one knows what that is 😆 We do know that it varies according to the size of your account. Be conservative and stick to 30 per hour when you’re just starting out and 500 per day.
  • Post likes per hour has a defined limit of 350. You must not like more than that in an hour or you will get paused. 
  • Tags / mentions in a comment must not exceed five. Doing that repeatedly may get you paused. 
  • Copying and pasting the same comment repeatedly is also a no no. Doing that repeatedly may get you paused or your comments simply won't be shown. 
  • You can’t have more than 15 people in a group message.
  • You can only tag 20 people in a post and 10 people in a Story.
  • You can only use 30 hashtags in a post and 10 in a Story. 
  • Don't use bots. They are annoying to your potential customers and they are not allowed.
  • Don't do anything that could be mistaken for spammy behaviour. This includes mass following or unfollowing. If you're struck with the urge to declutter your feed, just go slowly.

So there it is. Do you believe in the shadowban? I'd love to hear your thoughts.