The term shadowbanned is to creators what the name Voldemort is to Harry Potter fans. Used as a term to define what happens when content shared on your TikTok account is unknowingly blocked from being visible by other users, consider getting shadowbanned the ultimate curse on your account that can lead to a steep decline in views, engagement, and as a result, account growth.
So why does shadow banning happen? And how can users reverse getting shadowbanned on TikTok or avoid it altogether? Keep reading to find out!
Why Does Shadow Banning Happen?
HubSpot defines shadow banning as the act of blocking a user's content on social media sites, in such a way that the user doesn't know what's happening. In other words these platforms' algorithms play a huge part in what we call shadow banning. No wonder why brands and creators are actively avoiding this social media phenomenon at all costs. As incredible as it is that we all can use social media platforms like TikTok to express ourselves and share our ideas with other people around the world, this can sometimes lead to the circulation of hateful, harmful, and untrue information. As a result, TikTok relies on methods like removing content and "shadow banning" accounts that they believe are sharing false or dangerous information.
TikTok heavily relies on technology and automations to help them discern what content may be spreading harmful or inaccurate information. While this may lead to some accounts being wrongfully impacted, these measures are necessary to keep TikTok as safe for all users as possible.
What TikTok Says About Shadow Banning
The team at TikTok denies that shadowbanning exists. When asked about shadowbanning during a panel at the Canadian Music Week conference, Adam Burchill, Head of Music, TikTok Canada said, "Avoid assumptions or misconceptions. There's no such thing as shadow banning. Don't think you've been shadow banned. We get that question every day. Some videos go, and some videos don't. Don't think you can't post. Like if you stop posting, then the algorithm is going to get mad at you. That's not true."
While the team at TikTok may not acknowledge that shadow banning exists, the symptoms of shadow banning, which can include a significant drop in likes, views, comments, and overall account growth, are very real and have been experienced by many users. Ultimately, TikTok's very own community guidelines explicitly state that they do penalize accounts that violate their terms:
"We will temporarily or permanently ban accounts or users that are involved in severe or repeated on-platform violations [of our Community Guidelines]."
Also, according to TikTok's latest Community Guidelines Enforcement Report, the platform has removed over 102 million videos for violating its community guidelines in the first quarter of 2022 alone.
So while the term ‘shadow banned’ may not be used by TikTok, it is clear that the act of shadow banning is still valid and real.
Why Shadow Banning is Sometimes Harmful?
Content moderation is not a bad thing, especially when it's protecting individuals from falling victim to bullying or hate crimes, stopping online groups from inciting violence, and more. However, shadow banning continues to cause users to distrust social media platforms because it sometimes prevents online discourse on cultural and political issues — not to mention algorithms targeting marginalized creators and brands. And since social media platforms don't provide context or reason to why some accounts' content is removed or isn't adds to the endless cycle of removing content that creators could avoid if they knew why it was removed in the first place.
Whether it be shadow banning or not, these social media platforms' algorithms unknowingly or not are targeting marginalized creators who create content that may or may not be "mainstream." For example, Bustle reported on Nyome Nicholas-Williams, a Black plus-size model and influencer, whose semi-nude photos kept getting removed. In an interview with Guardian, Nyome pointed out that there are millions of images of naked, thin, white women online that don't get removed — so why are hers getting removed?
Other accounts like queer creators, Grayson and Grey, shared in this video that their video content isn't as prominent in users' TikTok For Your Pages. Which leaves people wondering just because their content might not be what the algorithm identifies as mainstream or appropriate doesn't mean it is either of those things.
What Do You Have to Do to Get Shadowbanned On TikTok?
As previously mentioned, the most commonly known reason for getting shadowbanned is not adhering to TikTok's community guidelines. This may include:
Using methods such as mass-liking, commenting, or following other accounts to grow more quickly may cause your account to get flagged for spam.
Try to avoid engaging with too many accounts in a short period - especially by commenting the same or similar messages to multiple accounts. Remember: the best way to grow on any social media platform is by making genuine, authentic connections.
TikTok considers the following inappropriate and will shadowban your account for posting them:
- Hate speech
- Bullying & harassment
- Graphic content
- Copyright or trademark infringement
Keep in mind that TikTok does not manually moderate content. It relies on automated moderators, so in some cases, your content may be flagged for one of these things, even if your content isn't intentionally harmful. If other users report your content, this may also cause your account to be shadowbanned.
To prevent this, thoroughly review your content before posting to make sure it doesn't include anything that TikTok's automated moderators can misinterpret without the proper context.
Best Ways to Avoid Being Shadowbanned on TikTok
Ultimately, the best way to avoid being shadowbanned on TikTok is by following all of TikTok's community guidelines and avoiding any behavior that may lead to your account getting flagged as spammy or harmful.
- Don't use banned hashtags or keywords. If you are attempting to share helpful content regarding sensitive social or political topics, try using coded language, such as alternative spelling for keywords that TikTok might flag. For example, during the height of COVID, many users would use terms like 'Rona' to prevent their content from being flagged and shadowbanned.
- Don't frequently follow and unfollow numerous accounts.
- Avoid using bots or services that aren't official TikTok partners.
- Don't post illegal or inappropriate content.
- Don't harass or spam other TikTok users.
- Refrain from buying followers.
In addition, a growing trend on TikTok for avoiding content bans is talking in code. Some creators create content using emojis as descriptions instead of writing out content that might be "inappropriate." This trend was created as a solution to TikTok and other platforms' shadow banning tendencies.
A shadowban can be frustrating and ultimately harmful to well-meaning business owners and creators whose accounts will lose engagement and become stagnant in growth as a result. Protect your online presence as best as possible by keeping these best practices in mind.