Shadow Banning: What Your Practice Needs to Know

Social media is a vital tool for patient communication and outreach these days, with dental practices of all sizes making full use of a number of platforms. There are good reasons for this; social media offers an easy, low-cost approach to marketing and outreach. However, there are some pitfalls associated with social media. While most of them are minor and can be avoided with a bit of care, some are more insidious. The morbid sounding shadowbanning is one of the primary concerns on some social media platforms. While Shadowbanning has received a great deal of media attention, very little of that bothers to explain what it is and how it works. So here’s a quick guide to what shadowbanning is and what your practice needs to know about it.

What is Shadowbanning?

Shadowbanning is an alternative to a hard ban, in which a misbehaving user’s account is banned from a social media platform. Instead of a hard ban, after which the user may just set up another account and continue their inappropriate behavior, the platform may institute a shadowban. Shadowbanning leaves the account active and intact but prevents anyone from seeing the content it posts. It’s an ingenious system that limits conflict and trolling by mal-intended users. It does have the downside of occasionally catching the wrong person in its net and implementing a shadowban when one wasn’t needed. Shadowbanning can prevent you from communicating with your current audience and will stop you from attracting new audience members. This in turn hinders your ability to use social media to its fullest potential for your practice.

If your social media accounts suddenly see a drop in post engagement, you may have fallen into a shadowban. This is particularly common on Instagram, although allegations have been made that Twitter, Snapchat, and Reddit do it as well. Most social media platforms are tight-lipped about their shadowbanning practices–as of this writing, Twitter denies doing it at all.

How to Tell if You’ve Been Shadowbanned?

It can be tricky to know if you’ve been shadowbanned. Some websites claim that they can check for you if you input your account name and some other information. We do not recommend using them: they present several privacy and security issues and they don’t seem to be very effective. Instead, pay attention to your account and the post you’re making. If you see a sudden drop in engagement, responses, or feedback you may have been shadowbanned.

If you suspect a shadowban, there are a few things you can do to check. Find someone with an account on the platform you suspect shadowbanned you and ask them to check the hashtags you use. If your posts don’t pop up, you may have been shadowbanned. Likewise, check accounts similar to yours and see if your account comes up under the “Suggested for You” or similar section. If it doesn’t, you may have been shadowbanned.

A fun social media trick is to include a unique, proprietary hashtag in all of your posts. This can be something you’ve made up that relates to your practice, and as long as there’s no questionable phrasing you should be fine. If you search for your hashtag and nothing comes up, you know there may be a problem.

How to Fix Shadowbanning

There are several potential approaches to fixing a shadowban, each dependent on the reason the ban was implemented in the first place. The challenge here is that social media platforms simply won’t tell you that you’ve been shadowbanned, or why, so you’ll have to do some detective work to figure it all out.

The most common reason for a shadowban is inappropriate content. While it’s unlikely that your practice was posting anything that directly violated the terms of service, it’s easy for medical-related content to inadvertently get caught in the shadowban net. Take a look through your past posts and see if there’s anything that could be construed as graphic or otherwise inappropriate. Avoiding that content can help prevent or remove a shadowban.

On that note: there’s a theory out there that using some hashtags can lead to a shadowban. It’s difficult to say how true this is–certainly, there are problematic hashtags that incorporate racist or otherwise offensive content. In general, if you’re avoiding the obvious errors, it’s probably not your hashtags that are the source of the problem.

Some practices and some social media management businesses will use automated bots to handle social media accounts. These bots do it all: responding to other user’s content, automatically posting content, and soliciting likes and follows from users. They can be handy tools and great time savers, but some of them have been known to trigger a shadowban. They do this by being too active, using settings that expose either your account or others to security risks, or being overzealous in approaching other accounts for likes and follows. If you think you may have been shadowbanned, it may be time to turn off the bot for a while, do things the old-fashioned way, and see if that fixes it.

The last of the most likely possibilities is an ugly one: some accounts get shadowbanned if their content is frequently flagged or reported by the audience as inappropriate. This could be the result of a misunderstanding or just a few dedicated trolls, but it’s known to happen to businesses of all sorts. If you suspect this is the case, you’ll need to look at your past content, determine what you were most likely reported for, and refrain from posting anything like that again. No content is worth being shadowbanned for.

Any of these issues–and some others that are less common but may arise–may necessitate contacting the platform’s customer support. This can be a lengthy and time-consuming process, so you may want to start as soon as you think there’s a problem. Most social media platforms rely on FAQ sections and automated responses rather than putting your customer support request in front of a real person, at least at first. Be prepared for this moving forward–it may be a bit of a headache but it’s worth it to have a functional and effective social media presence.

Don’t Get Paranoid About Shadowbanning

That may sound absurd in light of everything we’ve said above, but it’s true. While shadowbanning exists and can be a problem for businesses of all sorts, it’s not something you’re likely to run into. If you see a drop in engagement on your social media posts, you may just need to find better and more engaging content, make better use of the hashtags available, and be a bit more effective in your social media outreach. This can be a lot for a busy health care provider, so finding professional help with your social media management needs may be the solution.

Regardless, we hope you’ve learned a bit more about shadowbanning, how it happens, and what to do if it happens to you. It’s an evolving field and things are likely to change, so we’ll do our best to update you as needed.