*As of May 10, 2019, there have been several new developments to this situation. Rather than filling up my home page with blog after blog about what’s going on, though, I will simply add updates to the end of this post as they happen. So, just scroll to the bottom if you want to know whether I’m currently in or out of Instagram’s sneaky little shadowban.
I’m happy to report that my shadowban on Instagram has FINALLY been lifted! Whew! What a frustrating pain in the ass that experience was. What really surprised me throughout this whole ordeal was the fact that I couldn’t find more blogs or personal accounts of individual experiences with shadowbanning, which is why I decided to post these last few blogs about it as it was happening to me.
So, to recap, here is what happened:
On the morning of April 24, 2019, I posted this image on my Instagram account:
Several minutes later, when I looked at my phone again, I realized that I wasn’t receiving very many “like” notifications. Now, to be clear, I only had about 1,070 followers at that time and my photos rarely receive over 100 likes anyway, but I AM used to having at least ten or so likes within the first few minutes of posting a new photo. So, the fact that I had only received maybe two or three likes (notably from good friends of mine) seemed a little odd.
I then remembered seeing a lot of discussions recently about shadowbanning on Instagram, which were posted in a couple of my boudoir photography Facebook groups. They all said that the shadowban makes it so that your images do not appear under any of the hashtags you’ve used in your post and, therefore, prevents anyone who isn’t already following you from seeing your images on Instagram.
With that in mind, I opened my last post on Instagram again and clicked on one of the hashtags I had used. Then, I clicked the Recent tab to see if my image was listed. It was not. So, I tried looking under another one of my used hashtags, and then another…but my image was nowhere to be found.
I was officially shadowbanned.
Now, it’s very easy to say that you really don’t care about how many new likes or followers you have on Instagram…until the possibility of receiving any new likes or followers is actually taken away from you without warning, which is the position I suddenly found myself in. I’m actually kind of ashamed to admit how panicked I became once this realization set in, because I was 100% one of those people who “didn’t care” prior to this incident.
Anyway, I immediately Googled “shadowbanning” to learn everything I could about what I may have done to cause this problem and what I might be able to do to fix it. I found a handful of articles, which all said pretty much the same things:
- Shadowbanning can occur if you accidentally use a hashtag that has been banned by Instagram. Therefore, you should check all of the hashtags you typically use to make sure they are not banned. (I checked. All of my hashtags were still “legal.”)
- Shadowbanning can occur if you use a bot or an app to automate your Instagram activity. (I’ve never done that.)
- Shadowbanning can occur if your post violates Instagram’s rules. (This was one that I thought might apply to me since I regularly post images of women wearing little to no clothing. However, as you can see above, the image I posted was of a woman wearing a cropped T-shirt and panties. She is not nude, and she is not posed in a sexually suggestive manner. She is simply sitting on a sofa and looking out the window. Trust me, I’ve posted WAY worse photos than this, and yet I had never been shadowbanned for it.)
- Shadowbanning can occur if you suddenly have a spike of activity on your Instagram account. (Again, this one could possibly apply to me since I HAD been trying to make more of an effort to like and comment on other film photographers’ work recently. However, I really do not think my activity increased so much that it would have set off any alarms with the Instagram Police. Furthermore, it seems a bit unfair that, on one hand, Instagram encourages and rewards people for being active by making their posts more visible, and yet Instagram will also punish people if they think they’re being “too active.”)
- Shadowbanning can occur if you use the same exact hashtags in every single post. (I always try to switch up my hashtags, although there are a few that I used quite often, such as #filmphotography.)
Now, here’s the really weird part. That same evening, I’d say approximately 12 hours after I’d posted my last photo, I made another post on Instagram. In it, I thanked Ryan at Boutique Film Lab for taking the time to talk to me about film and also for doing all he could to salvage some images I took on a roll of expired 120 film that turned out to be 50 years-old! This is the image that accompanied that post:
As soon as the post went live, I checked all of the hashtags I’d used to see if I was still shadowbanned. Thankfully, I was NOT! This image appeared under the Recent tab of every single hashtag I’d used. Therefore, I had to wonder if my weird shadowban that morning was just some kind of fluke, or if shadowbans only last for a short period of time? Regardless, I was very relieved to see that my account was no longer shadowbanned.
Then, I fucked up. The very next morning, I straight up violated Instagram’s terms and conditions, but hear me out.
I was really in love with some medium format images I’d recently taken with my Pentax 6×7, in which my model is nude and standing behind an obscure glass shower door. Now, I’m usually very diligent about pixelating any nipples that I post on my Instagram account, as I am a Taurus to the bone and we are strict rule-followers. However, I have been seeing a LOT of nipples on Instagram lately that are so BARELY pixelated that I’ve actually had to zoom in to see if they were censored at all. (See my This is Pure Bullshit post.) With that in mind, and considering the fact that the obscure glass shower door made my model’s entire body and face look pixelated, I decided it probably wasn’t necessary for me to digitally pixelate her nipples any more than they already were, and I simply posted this image as is:
Within minutes, I received a notice from Instagram that my image was being removed because it violated their terms and conditions. Sadly, I wasn’t given the option to challenge this decision. I simply had to click Accept and suffer the consequences, which, in this case, was a much harsher shadowbanning sentence.
Unfortunately, Instagram does not tell you when (let alone why) you are being shadowbanned, nor do they tell you how long the shadowban will last. Therefore, I cannot tell you this for certain, but it’s probably a safe bet to assume that your length of shadowbanning time is determined by whether or not it is your first offense and/or how severe the offense was. I can just tell you from my own personal experience that my first shadowban lasted for about 12 hours, and my second shadowban lasted for exactly 14 days. During that time, I lost about ten or so followers, which really isn’t that bad. I’m just throwing that fact in here in case some of you were also wondering if shadowbanning causes you to lose followers.
In terms of solutions, I tried logging out of my IG account for two full days, because some articles I’d read said that this will “reset” your account and lift the shadowban, but that did not work. In addition, I filled out the Report a Problem form on the IG app on two separate occasions, but I never received any sort of response (nor did I really expect one). So, unfortunately, none of the suggested shadowbanning solutions I found online worked for me. I simply had to wait it out.
From this point on, I’m definitely going to pixelate the shit out of any nipples I happen to post to my Instagram account. (However, sadly, this experience has made me afraid to post any artistic nudes on IG at all.) I am also going to be using less hashtags per post, and I’m going to make sure that I’m not repeating those hashtags as frequently as I was before.
As for my Instagram activity, I guess I’ll just be careful that I don’t go on any “liking” or “following” sprees during any short periods of time, but I honestly never really did that before, and I don’t think that’s what caused my shadowban.
So, never fear! I will definitely continue to seek out all you other film photographers out there and show your Instagram accounts some love, and I hope you will do the same for me, as well (@courtshootsfilm). 🙂
Update – May 10, 2019
Well, I was free from the shadowban for a good 24 hours yesterday, but then I discovered this morning after posting the following photo on Instagram that I was being shadow banned again:
This image does NOT violate Instagram’s terms or conditions. I also checked every hashtag I used, and none of them were banned. I have NO IDEA why this photo would have caused another shadowban. If anyone reading this post knows more about why shadowbanning occurs, PLEASE CONTACT ME because this is driving me insane!
So, I basically stayed off of Instagram completely today. However, just before I wrote this update, I decided to test the shadowban one more time since it has been about 12 hours since that last post. I decided to post something that I was 100% CERTAIN would not set off any nudity alarms, and I posted this image from my Cancun trip last April:
I used only two hashtags that I’ve never used on Instagram before, #canonblackbeauty and #travelphotography, and then I held my breath as I clicked on them to see if my image showed up under the Recent tab.
Guess what? It did!
So, apparently I just endured another 12-hour shadowban for God (and Instagram) only knows what reason this time. WTF?!?!?!
Update – May 13, 2019
I went a WHOLE WEEKEND without being shadowbanned, so I decided to press my luck a little bit this morning, just to see what would happen. I decided to post another photo from the series of my redhead model behind the obscure glass shower door. Only this time, I chose an image that was more cropped, and I manually pixelated her already “pixelated” nipple. This is the image I posted:
I then added a small handful of hashtags that aren’t as popular so that it would be easy to find this image under the Recent tab when I checked to see if I was shadowbanned. I held my breath, crossed my fingers, hit Share, then immediately clicked on a hashtag to see if my image appeared under the Recent tab. It did not. I checked two more hashtags before I deleted the post completely. So, it was live for MAYBE a full minute.
I waited for about a half-hour, and then I decided to post another, less risqué image to see if I was still being shadowbanned. This is the image I posted:
I mean, I guess I could have chosen a less sexy, more clothed portrait of someone, but I really don’t feel like this image is THAT provocative. Besides, the point of these experiments isn’t to see if less sexy images get me shadowbanned, because I already know that they do not. I guess I’m just trying to figure out exactly where my boundaries within Instagram currently lie. (These “boundaries” I speak of seem to be totally different for everyone, by the way, and it seems to depend upon how popular your Instagram account is. The more followers and engagement you have, the more they’ll let you get away with…maybe? I don’t know that to be a fact, but I see so many images on IG on a daily basis that are way worse than my pixelated shower images. I just have to assume that those particular users “earned” the ability to post those images without being shadowbanned somehow. Again, if anyone reading this blog has ANY insight into this stuff, I would love to hear from you.)
Anyway, I posted this image using a small handful of not-as-common hashtags, but my image is completely invisible to those tags. So, once again, I’m officially shadowbanned for now. Since I posted this image around 9:15AM, I’ll try posting another photo tonight around 9:30PM to see if this was another 12-hour ban, or if the ban is ongoing.
[12 hours later] My shadowban has been lifted…again…for now…
Update – March 14, 2019
I started my day by posting this image and discovering it was shadowbanned:
Rather than waiting a full 12 hours, I decided to test this 12-hour ban theory and I posted this image around 1:15pm:
Sure enough, I was still shadowbanned.
Then, a little after 6:00 PM (12 hours after my first post this morning), I posted this image:
Now, here’s the interesting thing: When I first posted this image and checked the handful of original hashtags I’d used, my image appeared under all of them. Therefore, the 12-hour ban had expired. However, after several minutes had passed, I decided to edit the caption for my image and add the hashtag #editingdust. After I updated the caption and then clicked on #editingdust, I was surprised to see my image was not there. So, I clicked on a couple of the other hashtags that I had already checked earlier, and my photo is no longer showing up! I didn’t really see any indication that my #editingdust hashtag was bad or banned or whatever, but apparently adding that to this image’s caption was the kiss of death. So, it looks like I’m shadowbanned again. This is SO stupid.
[9:15 PM] So, I just went down a rabbit hole of testing out “Instagram shadowban tester” websites. These sites are supposedly able to tell you if your Instagram account is being shadowbanned and which of your hashtags are the culprit. My conclusion is that both the websites I tried seemed to be kind of bogus because both of them told me the last photo I posted (above), which definitely did NOT show up in any hashtag searches, was not banned and that all the hashtags I used for it were good.
However, while I was down that rabbit hole, I did stumble upon a blurb somewhere that said that Instagram does not like it when you edit your post right after you’ve posted it, which is what I did when I added my #editingdust hashtag. So, I’m guessing that’s why it immediately hid my post from all the other hashtags that were previously working for me.
To test this theory, I decided to post ONE MORE photo before I put my obsession to bed for the night. I chose a very non-naked-girl photo to post this time, because I know there is no reason why this image of a creepy basement should be flagged:
I checked all the hashtags. They work. So, at least I learned something new tonight. I learned NOT to edit my Instagram posts shortly after I post them, because that will also get you banned.
Update – May 18, 2019
I almost didn’t post this update because I didn’t want to jinx anything, but my last SIX images posted on Instagram have NOT been shadowbanned! That practically feels like a miracle at this point. However, you may note that these images also do not feature a half-naked woman, which I’m sure has a LOT to do with it. These are the most recent images I’ve posted on Instagram that have avoided the ban:
I do eventually plan on posting some of my boudoir images again, but right now I’m just sort of testing the waters in terms of hashtag use and posting frequency. Here is what I’ve been doing so far:
- I post a caption to my photo, but then I enter five periods, or dots, (one per line) to put space between the caption and my hashtags. I’ve read that this is the preferred method over just adding your hashtags as a comment, but who knows if that’s actually true. I personally just prefer to do it this way.
- Rather than using 30 hashtags (the maximum number Instagram will allow), which is what I used to do before I started getting shadowbanned, I have been using only 5-15 hashtags under the caption. Then, after waiting about 15-30 minutes, I will sometimes leave a comment on my photo where I add another 5-10 hashtags. I don’t want to let TOO much time pass before adding the additional hashtags because then my image will be pushed pretty far down in the Recent photos for those hashtags (depending on the popularity of the tags, of course).
- I’m using a much wider variety of hashtags now than I was before. Instead of just focusing on tags related to film photography, I’m incorporating hashtags related to the image itself. For example, when I posted the two photos above with the cat in the foreground, I used #catlovers, #catstagram, and #greenhouse as some of my hashtags.
- I always tag a location for my photos now, which is something I didn’t use to do. I also try to vary that location. For example, I have a LOT of images of the beautiful girl with blonde braids that you see above resting her head on the sofa, and they were all taken at our photography studio in Smyrna, TN. So, sometimes I tag those images as being in Smyrna, TN, but sometimes I tag them as being in Nashville, TN, or even just Tennessee.
- I’m sticking to posting just one or two images per day, usually right when I wake up in the morning and again around dinnertime in the evening. However, occasionally I will replace one of those times with a post around 3:00 in the afternoon. I remember reading an article once that said this was a popular time for Instagram posts. However, I honestly haven’t noticed much more activity when I’ve posted in the afternoon. Still, I figure it’s better to mix up your posting times occasionally so that Instagram doesn’t think you’re using an automated program to manage your posts.
That’s pretty much it. Like I said, so far these methods appear to be keeping me safe from shadowbans, but I really do think that 99.9% of my luck with that lately has more to do with the lack of half-naked bodies in my Instagram feed. So, tonight I plan on posting another boudoir image using the same methods above, which have been successful so far, just to see if I’m right in that assumption. My money’s on a temporary shadowban…
Update – May 19, 2019
Well, last night I posted this boudoir image, and it was NOT shadowbanned!
Granted, she’s still pretty covered up, but as prudish as Instagram has been lately, I thought there was still a chance that this photo may be pushing the envelope a bit. Surprisingly, I was wrong and this image showed up under all the hashtags I used.
Then, something really crazy happened. My boss posted a photo of a girl in a similar pose as the one above onto our business Instagram account, only the girl is wearing a lace shirt and a pair of panties. As soon as she posted it, I checked her hashtags, which were mostly geared towards body positivity, and I did not see her image under the Recent tab of any of the hashtags she used. I didn’t think much of it, as our business account has been shadowbanned for a while. However, a little later this afternoon, my boss sent me a screen shot of the statistics on that image, and the likes and hashtag reach was through the roof!!! As of right now, her photo has almost 1,500 likes!!!!!! That’s the most likes any of our Instagram photos have EVER had! So, I wondered if maybe the shadowban got lifted in the middle of the day or something and I checked her hashtags again. THE PHOTO IS STILL NOT SHOWING UP IN THE RECENT TABS. And I scrolled WAY down in those photos to see if I could find it, too.
So, now I’m just more confused than ever. I mean, the stats say that the majority of her image’s reach is coming from her hashtags, so why can’t I see the image under any of those hashtags???
Well, that aside, I decided to push the envelope again over on my account. Once again, I tried posting one of the shower door images that has gotten banned in the past, only this time I actually scribbled out my models nipples instead of just pixelating them:
Despite the extra precautions, my image was shadowbanned, once again. I thought about leaving it up anyway, but then I changed my mind and deleted it. Womp womp.
Update – June 2, 2019
I just thought I’d do a quick update, and hopefully this will be my last. For the most part, I’ve been staying out of the shadowban, but it’s only because I’ve decided that my account must be red flagged or something because if I post anything that is even CLOSE to being partially nude, I get shadowbanned. Here is the best example of that. I posted this image of a crowded swimming pool, where everyone is in swimsuits, and it actually got shadowbanned:
So, yeah. I don’t know what to tell you. I’ve basically just decided that I have no other choice than to accept the fact that this is going to happen all the time now.
I wish I could say that I’ve gained a better understanding about Instagram’s algorithm and shadowbanning practice, but I honestly just feel more confused than ever. Here is what I’ve learned so far:
- Anytime I post an image that shows any amount of nudity (see swimming pool photo above), that image will be shadowbanned. However, the next photo I post will not be shadowbanned (as long as the subjects in that photo are fully clothed, of course).
- If I push the envelope and post an actual nude photo, but censor it myself by either scribbling over or pixelating the “naughty bits,” I am risking being shadowbanned for a 12-hour period, meaning any photo I post within those 12 hours (clothed or not) will not appear under any of the hashtags I use.
- If I post a nude photo and Instagram decides that it isn’t censored ENOUGH, they will remove the photo and slap a 14-day shadowban on my account. (I do not know this for a fact, but I think that the reason the Instagram algorithm is so sensitive to my account right now may be due to the fact that I received one of those 14-day shadowbans just a couple of months ago. I’m curious to see if this will eventually loosen that up a bit.
- The most confusing thing I’ve learned thus far, though, is that ALL OF THE ABOVE MAY BE TOTAL BULLSHIT, as evidenced by the photo that was posted on our photography studio’s business Instagram account on May 19th. That photo, which featured a woman in lingerie posed on her hands and knees with her panty-covered butt up in the air, received almost 3,000 likes, despite the fact that this image appeared to be shadowbanned. I personally looked for this image under every single hashtag that my boss used when she posted it, and it was nowhere to be found. And yet, when we view the Insights for that image, it clearly states that the photo has received 50,447 impressions, 46,590 of which HAVE BEEN FROM HASHTAGS!!!! So, you tell me why we couldn’t find the image under any of our hashtags, and yet over 46,000 other people clearly did???? My boss has posted five other images since that one, some with the same hashtags she used before, and not only have they all been shadowbanned, but the most likes any of them have received has been around 140. It makes absolutely NO sense.