There has been a lot of talk around users being ‘shadow banned’ from different social media platforms, but what does the term actually mean on the internet?

Have you ever been using a social media platform and your engagement with other users/followers just suddenly drops dramatically? You could have been shadow banned.

The term may have become popularised in 2018 after Twitter was accused of shadow banning Republicans, but the term has recently been doing the rounds on TikTok.

So, what does the term ‘shadow banned’ actually mean and how does it all work?

What does ‘shadow banned’ mean?

  • Shadow banning, also known as stealth banning, ghost banning or commented ghosting, is the act of blocking or partially blocking a user from a platform without it being apparent to that user.

Here, a specific user’s posts, likes or comments within an online community or on a particular social media platform would be hidden from all other users. However, the user in question would not be aware of this as their content would still be visible from their own device.

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The hope is that by shadow banning a particular user, they will become frustrated or bored and leave the site, or would cause more hassle to spammers and trolls who must then create new accounts if they wish to continue harassing a certain community.

You can also be shadow banned from certain video games. For instance, if you are banned from a title for cheating or using hacks, you could also be banned on a fresh account if you are playing from the same computer/console.

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What platforms use shadow banning tools?

The vast majority of social media platforms will use or have used some type of shadow banning tool at some point; notably Craigslist, Reddit, Twitter and Instagram.

Interestingly, the first case of shadow banning was described in the mid-1980s on Bulletin Board Systems forums. Specifically, the ‘Citadel’ BBS software would deem certain problematic users as “twits” who could still read public discussions, but whose posts would not be shown to members of that group.

However, the first use of a practice similar to shadow banning actually occurred back in the 1970s in Dungeons and Dragons text-based chat rooms, called ‘Toading’. According to internet anthropologist Claire Evans, ‘Toading’ was the “act of metaphorically turning someone into a ‘toad’ as a punitive measure” which would make the user invisible to other players.

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What can get a user shadow banned/unbanned?

The criteria for becoming shadow banned depends on the particular platform, but usually involves some form of spamming, abusive behaviour or copyright infringement.

For example, Reddit implemented a feature similar to shadow banning that addressed spam accounts, whereas WeChat suspended users if they made comments that contained certain ‘flagged’ keywords/phrases.

If you are shadow banned from a certain community, the way to get un-shadow banned will vary depending on the platform. However, the usual advice is to delete all content that could potentially go against the platform’s terms of service, uninstall/reinstall the app and just wait it out – sometimes shadow bans are only temporary, so may only last a few days or weeks.

You can check out an article on shadow banning on TikTok specifically, here.