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What is a ‘shadow ban’? Lizzo claims TikTok is shutting her videos out of its algorithm

Lizzo said TikTok was ‘getting wack’ after claiming she’d been shadow banned  (Getty Images)
Lizzo said TikTok was ‘getting wack’ after claiming she’d been shadow banned (Getty Images)

Are your TikTok or Instagram posts no longer generating the amount of engagement they used to? You may have been shadow banned.

If that’s the case, you’re in esteemed company. Pop superstar Lizzo recently accused TikTok of shutting her videos out of its algorithm.

The singer behind smash hits like Juice and Truth Hurts claimed her clips were doing bigger numbers on Instagram than TikTok. “This app getting wack,” Lizzo captioned her post.

Here’s what you need to know about the secret way social media platforms bury your posts, and what you can do about it.

What is a shadow ban?

A shadow ban is a blunt content moderation tool wielded by social media platforms looking to banish spammers, rule-breakers, and bots.

The term generally refers to the silent actions taken by sites ranging from Twitter to Reddit to limit a post’s reach.

Shadow banning can be tricky to detect, as a user can still share content and interact as normal, but their own posts are hidden from other users.

Why are people shadow banned?

There are many reasons why a platform might shadow ban a user or content. These range from accounts that are targeted for violating a site’s terms of service by posting hate speech to posts that are removed for being spam or low quality.

By comparison, social media platforms are typically more vocal about normal bans. Both TikTok and Meta, which operates Instagram and Facebook, have started notifying users if they’re at risk of being suspended or permanently banned for violating community guidelines.

How do I know if I’m shadow banned?

Worst of all, there’s no real way to find out if you’ve actually been shadow banned. Your posts will be hidden from other users, but you won’t be notified about the penalisation.

This is mainly done as a means of preventing bad behaviour without alerting the offender, who may then try to find a way around the ban - like creating a new account.

However, most victims of shadow bans tend to cotton on pretty quickly. For instance, you may notice that your posts are no longer getting as many likes as they used to. You may also spot that they are no longer appearing in the same places as they used to, like the Explore section on Instagram or in relation to trending topics on Twitter.

On the other hand, although you may feel like the victim of a shadow ban after a sudden drop in engagement, it may not always be the case. Perhaps, the platform you’re using just tweaked its algorithm to value another form of content, like videos over static images or clips about certain trending subjects, like make-up tutorials or food.

How do sites impose shadow bans?

Shadow banning is an opaque practice that is shrouded in secrecy, making it difficult to discern how exactly they are implemented. However, internet sleuths and former employees claim to know how they work. Here’s what you need to know about the various ways platforms remove your posts.

TikTok

According to a purported TikTok insider, the video platform only applies the penalty to a small subset of creators, and usually lifts the restriction within 24 to 72 hours for a low-level offense. Apparently, there’s nothing you can do to prevent it, so it’s best to ignore it and keep posting in the hopes that it will be swiftly removed.

Of course, if you keep getting reported for posting spam or violating the rules, you can be banned for longer, or altogether.

Instagram

A number of people who claim to have been victims of Instagram shadow bans say they were banned for up to 90 days from posting. Some claim that they were no longer getting engagement from hashtags and that their posts completely disappeared from the app’s Explore tab. You may also be able to spot where you want wrong. For instance, using a banned hashtag, receiving a warning from Meta or Instagram, or having a post or story abruptly removed could all spell trouble.

Reddit

Reddit is a different beast altogether as it is composed of countless forums overseen by volunteers, many with their own distinct rules around posting. The moderators can shadow ban users who fall foul of the guidelines. This action is often carried out by an automatic moderation bot that has been instructed to remove your posts and comments as soon as they appear. Meanwhile, you can also be shadow banned from the entirety of Reddit by the platform’s admins. This can also result in your profile no longer being visible to others.

Twitter

Way before Elon Musk took over, Twitter’s management said that the platform does not shadow ban users. Instead, they revealed that they rank and tweets and search results in order to surface the most relevant content, and to keep out “bad-faith actors” from disrupting healthy conversations.

Still, that hasn’t stopped Twitter users from speculating that the platform does, in fact, deploy shadow bans. They claim that these range from hard to soft bans that remove your tweets from certain parts of the platform, or hide certain tweets under “show more replies” on a case-by-case basis.

Musk himself has accused Twitter’s old guard of using shadow bans to suppress the New York Post’s reporting on Hunter Biden, President Joe Biden’s son, ahead of the 2020 election. Ironically, Musk was later alleged to have used the method himself when Twitter banned an account that traced his private jet’s whereabouts.