On April 10th 2019 Instagram announced that it will start limiting the reach of “borderline content” – posts that don’t necessarily go against their community guidelines but are still sexually suggestive, racist or offensive. Essentially that’s an Instagram “shadowban” as the user is not notified or warned in any way that their post was restricted.
You might have heard about this policy update but probably didn’t really think it affects you. You don’t think you are posting anything that can be considered inappropriate, right? Think again.
Here are some of our posts that were marked as inappropriate content by Instagram and affected by this shadowban:
How Does It Work?
Instagram is training its AI algorithms to recognize this so-called borderline content and automatically limit its reach and discovery. Since the posts don’t go against Instagram’s community guidelines, they won’t be outright removed. They will also still be visible to your own followers. However, it will be harder for other users to find them as they will not be shown on hashtags, explorer, location or any other places where people search for new content.
What Is An Instagram Shadowban?
Even though your photos are essentially “demoted” and restricted from certain parts of the platform, Instagram won’t explicitly tell you that. That’s why this is often referred to as an Instagram “shadowban”. If you don’t know you are being banned from certain areas of the app, you have no chance of adjusting your content to comply with these policies.
But there are some ways to check by looking at the hashtags or location of the post. Any borderline content won’t be visible there. Your post insights can also give you a hint. Below are screenshots of our stats for a typical post on the left vs. one that had this Instagram shadowban on the right. Both were taken 24 hours after the post went live:
On the left you can see the typical post on our page has on average about 30% Discovery in the first 24 hours. That means 30% of the people who saw it were not following us. After a few more days that percentage goes even higher. This is usually due to the post showing up on explorer and hashtags where new people can discover our page. You can see the impressions coming from Hashtags and Other are pretty high.
On the right is a restricted post – it’s basically hidden and limited only to our own followers. Most impressions by far come from Home feed. Discovery is very low at 4% with barely any views coming from Hashtags and Other. As a result the overall reach of the post is suppressed and very few people outside of our following see it.
Slowing Growth And Engagement
The problem here is not just this one restricted post. If you keep posting pictures that get restricted by Instagram, your whole account could be flagged and affected. We noticed that on weeks where we had even just 1 post restricted, it slowed the growth of our account and it affected the engagement of the posts right around it as well. As we mentioned when we wrote on how to grow your Instagram followers, momentum is really important for your account’s growth and engagement. And having a few restricted posts here and there can really limit that.
If you are not taking a closer look at your analytics yet, we strongly suggest you do. In addition to taking screenshots of our stats at the 1hr mark, we also use Iconosquare to track our engagement and demographics. It has been of huge help in analyzing our account and what works for us.
What Is Borderline Sexual Content?
When we first read about this policy we weren’t particularly worried. It doesn’t really affect us, we thought, as we don’t post sexual content. But soon we started to realize that the way Instagram defines inappropriate content is pretty broad.
We did a quick scroll through our feed and checked our friends’ posts showing a little more skin to see if they were also affected. And while we obviously can’t see their stats, we could check if the posts were showing on hashtags. Here are some of the posts that don’t show up on hashtags and seem to be marked as inappropriate by instagram:
From the examples above you can see that even regular bikini photos that are not particularly scandalous are still considered inappropriate by Instagram. Topless men are not safe either. In some cases even your naked back can get marked as indecent.
What Does This Mean For You?
Of course, you can still post photos like that. They are technically allowed. But they will only be shown to people who already follow you and won’t help your page be discovered by new users. As a creator, you already know what that means. When your discovery goes down, fewer people outside of your own followers see your posts and the ability to grow your following organically also decreases.
This could also affect your ability to do brand collaborations. Brands care about performance. And working with certain brands after this policy went in effect would affect your performance. Fewer people will see your posts if they involve a swimwear brand collaboration, for example.
Our Thoughts On Instagram Shadowbans
The intention of this policy is to protect the community from content that is close to being pornographic. On the face of it, that’s a good thing. Instagram should take steps to keep its billions of users, some of which are very young, safe from harmful content.
But in reality, the effect is far more sweeping. From the posts we looked at, it seems like Instagram’s algorithm can’t tell the difference between a sexually suggestive post and someone simply hanging out at the beach in a bikini. So in effect, this becomes a universal suppression of any account showing a little more skin on the platform.
It will affect bikini brands, models, fitness and body positive accounts.. Far from the original intention of suppressing borderline inappropriate content. But what’s worse is that there are no clear guidelines on what is considered inappropriate by Instagram. Creators will now have to guess just how much skin is ok.
The fact that creators are not even notified in any way that they are breaking any rules is not a good practice. As creators, we spend a lot of time curating beautiful content for the platform. When our hard work is being affected by invisible rules we are not even aware of, it can be extremely frustrating.
When Facebook started to limit brands and creators on its platform, they started to leave. Nowadays no one creates interesting content for Facebook as you just don’t have the ability to grow organically there. By putting more and more restrictions on its creators without clear guidelines, Instagram is going down the same path.
What do you think? Has this policy affected you?
LIKE THIS POST? SAVE IT ON PINTEREST!
Wow I never heard about that I will try to notice! Thanks for keeping us in the loop guys 😊
Thanks so much guys 🙂 It is a sneaky one because you might not even notice it but it can hurt your account a lot
That’s a little extreme… bikini posts?!? Naked backs? What’s next, we have to cover our hair?
Yup, so crazy what is happening on IG these days..
Ah this keeps happening to me too! At first I thought Instagram was blocking my hashtags, then I realised it only applied to bikini pictures but couldn’t understand why as they’re not ‘sexual’ by any means (mainly just surfing). I thought the restriction only applied to my account but it seems to be a universal issue. Gosh, all the insta politics is becoming so draining. Bring back being free creators! ✌️
I know :/ things are crazy on IG these days…
Happened to me too and I kept wondering how a bikini and a t-shirt could be seen as nudity. Now I understand…
From someone who just started a few months ago on the platform, it is really really frustrating…
Thank you for coming up with this explanation
Lyne, we had the exact same reaction! We don’t understand why IG would want to censor pretty normal beach pics :/ but oh well! At least we can be aware of this and have a better idea of why our reach gets limited…
Exactly but damn…I tried a couple of changes. No good result yet. I’ll let you know if I find a way to work around this
Have you heard about the cases of removing photos due to this policy? My regular, chilling-by-the-pool bikini photo got recently removed from my post from May (the other non-bikini photos in the post are still there) without any explanation or notification from Instagram. I only discovered it by accident and it seemed so odd and unjustified. I was wondering whether it has something to do with these policy changes.
We haven’t heard of that but wouldn’t be surprised to be honest :/ Expect anything from Instagram these days..
This has been going on for some time, and means that as a photographer and a magazine publisher, we can no longer post swim-ware brand shoots on IG, and expect to attract any new followers. This is a ridiculous level of censorship, and no-one at IG ever answers our ‘there’s a problem’ requests. The AI based approach even led to a photo of a fully covered model, in workout pants, being shadow banned because the AI couldn’t tell if she had workout pants on or not, based on their color. So the brand got no new followers for that line, and that impacted sales, and my chance of getting a second shoot. This censorship is imposing victorian values onto IG, and directly impacting my business.
This is the worst in our opinion, it is discriminating against legitimate completely normal businesses, and indeed “victorian values” is a perfect way to put it… Very sad that IG is going in that direction!!
This is so frustrating. Posted a picture of myself today, in no way pornographic or offensive. Usually, until recently, I’ve got more likes on my posts from people not following me. For example: If I get 100 likes, 80 would be from people not following me. But today, I didn’t get ONE single like from noone not following me. I thought something was wrong with my account, until I found your site. I feel both sad, angry and in a way humiliated – what is so wrong with my post that it needs to be hidden.
It’s definitely very silly, we don’t even know what IG was thinking honestly! It’s also annoying that this information is not readily available and obvious so you have no idea what’s going on unless someone tells you :/
I wear shorties & yoga tops & it gets shadowbanned. I told my husband they were banning people for wearing swim suits. His reply,so simple “It’s Summertime ” this goes against Women’s rights to show your body in a bathing suit , or yoga clothes designed for water & heat. We need a petition. Bathing suits are acceptable.
They just Deleted my Instagram Business page after growing Followers I Feel like we can get together and do something about it. it’s not fair fashion nova post inappropriate pictures And so do others nothing is making sense
I use to receive 1000+ folllowers daily. Wondered why am I now getting 50?? And plummeting..
Afternoon my account was shadowbanned from a bikini photo in March it has never been the same. Instagram use to be fun and now it’s depressing to use. I hope they is a new app soon.
Yes, this negatively impacted my Fitness page. I’m an adult male and I’ve been losing weight. I was posting progress pics (me, facing forward, shirtless in the mirror, before & after side-by-side pics). At first it was as exactly as the author of this article described, meaning only the shirtless pics wouldn’t show up in hashtag searches. **NOTE: BE WARNED – it seems that after I’ve done this too many times, they completely shadow banned my account so that none of my photos show up in hashtag searches. After over 14 days of the shadow ban (and trying some recommended solutions) it appears my account was permanently shadow banned. For this reason, I deleted the account. **MY ADVICE: if any of you are posting a swimsuit, shirtless, or otherwise revealing photo, DON’T use any hashtags. They won’t do you any good on that particular photo, anyway given IG’s overly sensitive filter, and those hashtags could end up getting your whole account flagged as “inappropriate” or “in violation of community guidelines.”
Wow that is really sad! That’s our biggest issue, IG is hurting people who are nowhere near offensive or sexual.
I do think not using hashtags does not help either, because there are many other ways in which the content gets blocked, like Explorer page, Location, suggested users, etc. I do think if you start posting some content in clothes for a while, you can get out of the ban.
Still, pretty sad what is happening :/
Yes this new rule has been killing my page since the end of April. Im a personal trainer and gym owner, my page is a fitness lifestyle page. Ive never posted any content sexually suggestive content in underwear but im always shirtless in my photos… I live in miami who isn’t shirtless or in a swimsuit? Ever since this new rule my photos do not show up in the hashtags anymore and my following has actually gone backwards over the summer… I have no choice but to completely change the type of content on my page but this has been incredibly frustrating to figure out… and for the record I think this is a terrible move on instagrams part. I couldn’t figure out what the problem was. I lost multiple sponsors in the process, it would have been nice if IG could have just been upfront about the change. I have heard so many ppl complaining about the new Instagram, but it doesn’t look like its going back to what it used to be.
Jake, we have been thinking a lot about this and we are really upset that this is happening to creators like you who are far from being offensive or borderline sexual and still get affected by this policy. We are still wondering why there isn’t more noise around this and we think it must be because people just don’t know. Hopefully more creators will learn about this and get together and require a better solution from IG!!
Yep..I’m an art/fashion photographer, and I make a living mostly by working for a UK swimwear brand that loves my artistic imagery. I manage their instagram too as a kind of package deal, and have seen it go from decent to absolutely horrible over the past half year. It will soon mean I will lose my job actually as the instagram part is the reason I made photos for them – and if nobody is watching..what’s the point for them to keep hiring me?
It’s sad. I try to make content that is beautiful, female-friendly, not overly sexual (although one in a hand full might be a bit more sassy to appeal to a different part of the audience). Meanwhile I see other accounts posting absolutely raunchy, nasty content full of camel-toes, hard nipples, wet-tshirt and other stuff (I don’t care but I don’t make that kind of content) and they are doing extremely well, even now. And I wonder – where does this double standard come from.
(if you’re curious, but absolutely not for marketing reasons – check out ‘todivefor_swimwear’ on insta and tell me that it’s probably the most decent photos of swimwear one could make..!)
The issue is so stupid and the solution is so fucking simple.. anyone who isn’t 18 block them from seeing the sexually suggestive images instead of banning our accounts.. I mean we were on IG first.. We are content creators, personal trainers, models and actors who have been on IG since day one. Now that lil kids are on here we have to totally restructure our accounts and images?! Like WTAF? I hope someone creates a new platform soon because I don’t know how much more of this I can take.
It really doesn’t make sense, it’s like censoring things like bellybuttons and pretty regular bikini photos… I think we should start making more noise about it because currently nobody’s really complaining!
Yes!!! Just about every hashtag with the word “bikini” in it is banned. It’s making it close to impossible for any new people to see our content. How can we make more noise about this?
Phew, at least we’re not going crazy!
This has happened for a while now and could not work it out….
Thanks for information, hopefully IG changes this back soon.. 🙁
I’m having the same issues as a lot of people and don’t know what to do about this. Anytime I post any modeling fashion type or bikini photoshoot they hide my post in the hashtags and my followers while my other post they don’t do that to at all. Just a very frustrated thing I wish I can do something about it and there customer service is so bad
As a Hawaiian bikini brand- this is KILLING me. I post tasteful photos. But we sell bikinis- there’s going to be some skin showing! My followers and likes are dropping…it’s like Instagram is trying to push brands and creators off the platform. First, by completely changing the algorithm by taking away the chronological order, now this. I used to have a healthy, strong following going that helped my business grow but now it seems like the effort isn’t worth the return. Such a bummer. I used to love Instagram. Now it’s just a constant source of frustration and disappointment.
I 100% agree with you. It is so demotivating. It used to be such a great platform to connect and be creative. But being hidden and having our reach demoted is horrible I put so much effort in my posts and no one sees them. I told myself to focus on activities that give me higher returns, such as my website.
I am sorry to hear about your bikini brand reach being affected. This really isnt fair…
I’m a swimsuit model and YES. I get reported all of the time in a bikini and I will see people post bare butt and be fine. I also have big boobs and I think IG is harsher on people that have cleavage, we can’t get away with as much. I think there needs to be a new app that isn’t so Puritan. No one likes to feel restricted
BRUH ❗️❗️❗️ This explains everything! Jesus I’ve been draining tryna figure out why my shirtless pics won’t show up in hashtags but when I have a shirt on it shows up!!! I knew Instagram was banning certain posts
I noticed this too! My account is not sexual at all, but I traveled to Sri Lanka last semptember. All my beach pictures get a laughable reach. So sad.. Facebook ruined Instagram, there, I said it!
Furthermore, not only Facebook stole Snapchat’s idea for the stories, they are now copying TikTok’s business model too. We have to make noise around all of this because they are clearly out to dominate social platforms and their goal is to make everyone to pay for reach after a while of having natural organic fun. Remember the good ol’ days instagram was fun and gave us results for our efforts?
I am maybe a bit late to this topic but i have the same issue. I can’t even have shopping on my instagram because all the products aren’t approved by instagram! Is there something we can do together??
I have the same issue with my brand UGHHH it’s stupid hey?!
This was a great help. Very interesting article. Thanks and keep sharing.