First came the iconic swipe ups, followed by the undesirable-yet-flexible link stickers on Instagram Stories. Then the platform started testing ways to set a custom text for such stickers before ’punishing’ some users by taking away this privilege entirely. Instagram’s latest—hopefully not impromptu—decision is to roll out the link-sharing feature to everyone, regardless of their follower count.
Announcing the expansion via a blog post, Instagram highlighted its commitment to “Equity, Expression and Enablement” with the update—thereby introducing new ways for creators and businesses to reach more fans and engage with their community while boosting their overall exposure. Gone are the times when the feature was limited to verified accounts or those with a minimum of 10,000 followers. Took them long enough, right? Or as CEO Adam Mosseri explained himself after receiving years of feedback against the gatekeeping of the feature: “We heard you, 🙏.”
It goes without saying that the update is a game-changer for small creators and businesses who were previously struggling to hit the 10,000 mark with followers. Believe me, I’ve been there and passive-aggressively joked about it to redirect followers into my bio—a tactic which never seemed to pan out the way I wanted it to, given the fact that we’re all looking to minimise additional taps with our 8 second attention spans. That’s exactly where link stickers come in. They’re convenient and accessible, ridding audiences of the extra hassle when it comes to learning more about a product, reading an article, signing up for a service and more.
All you have to do is capture or upload content to your Story, select the sticker tool from the top right and navigate to the ‘Link Sticker’ option to add your desired link. Once you enter the link, you have the option to place the sticker anywhere on your Story and play around with its colour variations upon tapping. Easier said and done.
But just like any other global accessibility feature on social media platforms, it comes with a catch. For starters, the 10,000 follower limit to access link-sharing was put into motion to stop spammers from making new accounts—a fairly easy process by the way—just to share malicious links. With misinformation and hate speech more rampant on the platform than ever before, the criteria essentially helped gatekeep such content. The war was instead being waged on the popular ‘link in bio’ service Linktree, which has now become a sneaky hotspot for anti-vaxxers and conspiracy theorists to perpetuate harmful ‘facts’ online.
In short, instead of a sarcastic sigh of relief by stating “took them long enough,” we should be wondering if it actually took them long enough to implement link stickers for everyone. Did Instagram really think this through before rolling the feature out? Or will it pan out like the case of the present link stickers—where they are still introducing crucial developments as we go? According to the blog post, new accounts and those who engage with content that violates Instagram’s Community Guidelines will not have access to the link sticker. The platform also highlighted how this is part of its efforts to limit harmful content on the platform, for which they once introduced an algorithm to steer teens away from instead of taking it down in the first place.
A plethora of comments under Mosseri’s announcement on both Twitter and Instagram seems to confirm the obvious—with many stating how the platform is introducing changes while neglecting their existing customer service. “My account has been disabled for 27 days for no reason and [there are] so many accounts you have up that actually violate guidelines,” wrote a user, adding how the appeal team takes months to respond. Another outlined how this update is useless as long as their account is wrongly disabled and the platform is doing nothing to solve it.
While the real-time impact of the update is yet to be seen, it doesn’t hurt to be wary of links on shady Instagram Stories. So make sure to be cautious yourself because the billion-dollar company evidently seems to be on a 3am roll to boost engagement on its platform.
The four ‘official’ reasons your Instagram account might have been shadowbanned:
1. Your account is continually being reported.
2. You are using software that violates Instagram’s Terms of Service, such as buying fake followers or auto-posting websites (Buffer is fine). You can use this link to see how to remove third party posters from your account.
3. You are exceeding your daily/hourly limits of engagement. Depending on the age of your account you receive 150 likes, 60 comments, and 60 follow or unfollow per hour.
4. You are using a broken or abused hashtag. Even innocent hashtags such as #besties can, and have become overrun with ‘offensive’ material. Instagram will ban or limit broken hashtags. So, if you use it, you will get shadowbanned. Here is a list of all banned hashtags you should avoid in 2021.
You can also check whether you’ve actually been shadowbanned on the app by going through those 3 simple steps.
Shadowbanning—also called stealth banning, ghost banning or comment ghosting—is the act of blocking or partially blocking a user or their content from an online community. Anyone who gets shadowbanned will not be told that they are, and most users will only realise it after a while. Signifiers include a noticeable dip in likes on new posts, or someone else notifying they are unable to tag or search the shadowbanned account.
Shadowbanning has been recorded on various internet platforms since the 80s, but it only started appearing on Instagram in 2017. Instagram explained that the ban is intentionally coded and that it aims to stop bots, spammers, as well as protect younger users from being exposed to ‘sensitive’ material. With around 1 billion users, it’s impossible for Instagram to monitor all its content manually, so specific topics have been classified as triggering.
Because of Instagram’s regular changes to its algorithm, these triggers are hard to keep tabs on. That’s why, in the same way banks might block your bank account as soon as they see fraudulent behaviour on it, Instagram shadowbans an account as soon as it deems it contains triggering content. However, as many people have witnessed in the last few months, the ban can sometimes block some accounts that don’t seem to be violating any terms. The question is, what does Instagram really qualifies as ‘triggering content’, and what can be done to avoid getting shadowbanned?
When Instagram started its trial to remove likes last year (mostly in the US at first), the social media platform also asked for a push in ‘authenticity’, and yet, there seemed to be a rising number of accounts deletion and censorship at that time. What I had noticed myself on my Instagram feed had then been confirmed by journalist Chanté Joseph in an article for The Guardian, which highlighted how the platform was, and still is, shadowbanning creative accounts, and queer-inclined ones more specifically.
London’s party and DJ collective Pxssy Palace has been one of the many accounts affected by the 2019 shadowban. Screen Shot spoke with them about it, “There is no denying that the algorithm is targeting specific groups as we can all see it for ourselves. Not being able to search people’s accounts under the ban, not seeing posts from people in months and the list is continuously growing. The fact is that racist posts have been left on feeds as they ‘do not break any of the community guidelines’ and it’s wack, as we have people’s accounts being taken down left, right, and centre for calling out these racist, homophobic individuals.”
Talking about how long exactly this has been going on, the collective added, “This has been going on for a while now, it’s been BPOCs who have been heavily targeted for also speaking out time and time again. The algorithm will never favour us and Instagram denying time and time again that it doesn’t shadowban is beyond frustrating now. It’s also frustrating how much we have been relying on this platform to connect with our community and inform them about events, so we are beginning to foster community offline and in other methods such as mailing lists and WhatsApp groups.”
As Pxssy Palace highlighted, this shadowban is particularly distressing to queer accounts, which actually rely on the social media platform to promote and sell tickets for events. As trivial as it might seem, the ban largely affects the LGBTQ community. “We shouldn’t have been relying on Instagram as the only method [for promotion], however, it was a really great tool. The internet could turn off tomorrow and we would have no idea of what’s going to happen—it’s a wake-up call to make sure we are fostering offline communities, so we are protected. At the moment, Instagram is directly affecting ticket sales, and therefore the livelihood of QTIPOC who work with us regularly,” shared Nadine Ahmad with Screen Shot.
The Instagram shadowban supposedly lasts for 14 days, although many users claim that they have been shadowbanned for several weeks, and sometimes even months.
So, if you think you have been shadowbanned too, here are 10 tips to get rid of that nasty shadowban:
Apparently, some people say that a two-day silence helps remove the ban. After that, feel free to keep on engaging, chatting, and using the platform as usual.
Delete hashtags from your recent posts, as some of these might be blocked or banned. Additionally, place your hashtags in the caption of your posts, not in the comments section, and don’t go overboard with hashtags. Never go near the maximum number of hashtags (30), and never repeat hashtags.
Don’t make sudden changes to your user info, bio, email address during this period. Avoid any mass liking, mass commenting, following or unfollowing spree.
Contact Instagram and tell the company that your posts aren’t showing up in hashtag searches, but don’t tell them you’ve been shadowbanned.
Currently, the algorithm favours videos, and imagery over text, especially for sponsored posts.
Create a backup account, also known as a ‘sock’.
Try switching your profile to Male as @dyelindsey reports.
Check on Instagram which third-party applications you’ve given permission to, and delete as many as possible.
Use censored language, such as ‘s*x’, and acronyms.
Avoid engaging in any spam-like behaviour, such as mass liking, leaving short, duplicate comments, or regularly using keywords that are likely to flag as questionable.
In the meantime, let’s hope that the tips above help you prepare for the next shadow ban. If you think your account is somehow still getting censored for one reason or another, here’s my last trick that I originally found on the app itself. When you post some new content on Instagram, make sure you and your followers first save the post before liking and sharing it—the more, the better apparently. Good luck!