When I started my Instagram page @LiftingLawyer to document my fitness lifestyle, I had just graduated from law school, and fitness Instagram was new. Fast forward to 2017 and I found myself receiving quite a few inquiries from fitness influencers and other fitness brands. As it turns out, Instagram is pretty important to my clients since that is where they all “live.” Seeing some of challenges these clients faced taught me about a phenomenon called the “Instagram Shadowban” — let’s unpack it a bit, explain how it works, and think through what steps users can take to avoid it.

What is the Instagram Shadowban?

Instagram will actively hide posts and profiles from the discover page and possibly even from your current followers if you violate the Instagram terms of service — even if you didn’t know you were violating them. This creates a cycle that can have a big impact on your growth and visibility. You aren’t being seen by new users, your growth is down, your engagement will go down, and then you are punished by the “algorithm” for having poor engagement. If you have a personal or business brand tied to your social media, this can eventually hurt sales. Instagram has something like the shadowban in place to have some control over accounts that don’t comply with their terms, as some of these accounts are bots or are fake. However, because Instagram uses technology to automatically implement this policy, there is little room for error — there isn’t much human interaction and discretion to determine if something is a purposeful violation, an accident, or not really a violation at all.

What violates the terms of service?

There are many reasons why Instagram might flag your profile and decide to hide it from the broader audience, but let’s take a look at some of the most likely reasons why an account might get hit with the shadowban.

1. You’re using bots or automation

I know, I know — those companies just reached out! And it seemed like a no brainer to achieve growth and engagement without having to do anything further. Except many of these Instagram growth companies use bots and automation to like, comment, or gain followers and that’s a huge “no” from Instagram (and frankly from the rest of us). So if you’re paying someone else to run your Instagram account you should consider stopping this.

2. Your account is being reported

This one is a little harder to deal with. Your account may get reported by other users for a number of reasons, and sometimes for no good reason at all. Instagram will assume you are posting inappropriate content if this happens often enough and it may shadowban you or disable your account.

3. Broken hashtags

If you use a hashtag in your captions or possibly even in your stories, you may be surprised to find that Instagram might shadowban that post and even your entire account. This may be because you accidentally used a “broken hashtag,” which is one that is overrun with inappropriate content connected to it. While #humpday might be a common hashtag for Wednesdays, you don’t need to stretch the imagination to know what kind of inappropriate content could be connected to it and could result in problems with your account.

4. You post, comment, like, or generally engage too quickly

This is where the lack of human oversight can cause an issue. If you are doing things too rapidly on your profile, Instagram may assume you’re a bot and may take steps to limit your account. Instagram has rules about how quickly you can engage on the platform — it wants to promote real and meaningful connection, and liking 100 photos in one minute is likely the opposite of that.

How can you fix or prevent being Shadowbanned?

It’s pretty simple — stop doing any of the things above. You can check if any of your posts have been banned through various shadowban detectors that have popped up over the last year or so. A quick Google search will get you to plenty of sites that allow you to type in your Instagram handle and check for what’s been banned. If you’re using a bot or automated service, you should likely stop and try to find more organic ways to grow engagement. Further, look into the hashtags you use regularly and see if they’ve been banned. You can do this by searching the hashtag on Instagram — if the results say they’re hidden, it is likely a banned hashtag. You can also take to Google to do a little research on this. If you are facing some shadowbanning, one option to get your account back in good standing is to take a break from using Instagram altogether. Get off the platform, don’t log in to your account, let it rest, and stay off Instagram’s radar for a bit. Finally, just make sure to follow the terms of service! Despite arguments about the content of these terms, it is Instagram’s platform and users have to play by their rules.

For more information on this article and this topic, contact Shannon Montgomery.