Courtney Radsch (17/12/2021). Shadowban/ Shadow-ban. In Belli, L.; Zingales, N. & Curzi, Y. (Eds.), Glossary of Platform Law and Policy Terms (online). FGV Direito Rio. https://platformglossary.info/shadowban-shadow-ban/.
Author: Courtney Radsch
‘Shadowban’ refers to a relatively common moderation practice of lowering a user’s visibility, content or ability to interact without them knowing it so that they can continue to use the platform normally, but their content is not visible to anyone else. It can refer to user-driven or platform-driven blocking, and its meaning has expanded to include visibility in algorithmically determined platform features. ‘Shadowbanning’ is often a response to toxic or undesirable interaction related to a specific user. It can be observed by, and has been attributed to, the real or perceived visibility of an account.
Shadowbans can be implemented by individuals or the tech platform itself. Some tech platforms allow individual users to restrict the visibility and engagement of other users with one’s own account, often implemented as an anti-harassment tool. Instagram and Twitter allow users to block other users without them knowing. In 2019, Instagram launched (Grothaus, 2019)1 a restrict feature to enable its users to block individuals without that user being notified or made aware.
Platform-instigated ‘shadowbans’ reduce the visibility of content from the affected user both in terms of the posts themselves as well as through algorithmic restrictions on amplification. For example, a ‘shadowbanned’ account may no longer appear in algorithmically determined recommendations for content, in search terms or autofill recommendations, or in a list of suggested accounts. ‘Shadowbans’ can reduce search visibility or prevent an account from being indexed; or it is only visible to that specific user. Users who are ‘shadowbanned’ can continue using their accounts as usual. Accounts that are ‘shadowbanned’ typically appear to be functioning normally for the affected user, but its content is undiscoverable, and it may be unable to engage in certain ways. For example, on Reddit, the votes of shadowbanned accounts do not count, while on Twitter their engagement will be visible only to the user but not to the account holder or public.
The concept of restricting content from a user without their awareness has a long history in internet culture as an approach for reducing or deterring undesirable content or communication, such as spam, trolling, or harassment. The approach as a moderation technique has been around as long as there have been public discussion spaces, though the term did not come into use until the mid-2000s. Reddit (2015)2 used ‘shadowbanning’ until 2015 to “punish” (Shu, 2015) 3 users who broke the rules and deter spam. Shadowbanned accounts could continue to post but their content would only be visible to that user, meaning that they kept posting content without realizing their accounts were banned. In 2016, the right-wing media outlet Brietbart published what it called an expose revealing that Twitter (MILO, 2016)4 and Facebook (Bokhari, 2018)5 used ‘shadowbanning’ to silence conservative voices. A 2018 Vice (Thompson, 2018)6 article, that was later discredited (Stack, 2018)7, claimed that Republican figures had been intentionally removed from Twitter’s auto-populated drop-down search menu. The term ‘shadowban’ entered the popular lexicon as a highly politicized term when U.S. President Trump used the term to condemn unfounded claims that social media firms were ‘Shadowbanning’ Conservative users and threatened (Molina, 2018)8 to investigate social media companies.
- Grothaus, Michael. (2019). Here’s how to shadow ban your Instagram bullies with the new ‘Restrict’ feature’. Fast Company. Available at: https://www.fastcompany.com/90412178/instagram-rolls-out-restrict-feature-allowing-users-to-shadow-ban-bullies.
- Reddit. On shadowbans. Available at: https://www.reddit.com/r/self/comments/3ey0fv/on_shadowbans/.
- Shu, Catherine. (2015). Reddit Replaces its Confusing Shadowban System with Account Suspensions. Tech Crunch. Available at: https://techcrunch.com/2015/11/11/reddit-account-suspensions/.
- MILO. (2016). Twitter Shadowbanning is real and happening every day says inside source. BreitBart. Availble at: https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2016/02/16/exclusive-twitter-shadowbanning-is-real-say-inside-sources/.
- Bokhari, Allum. (2018). Facebook Admits to Shadowbanning News It Considers ‘Fake’’ (BreitBart). Available at: https://www.breitbart.com/tech/2018/07/13/facebook-admits-to-shadowbanning-news-it-considers-fake/.
- Thompson, Alex. (2018). Twitter appears to have fixed “shadow ban” of prominent Republicans like the RNC chair and Trump Jr.’s spokesman. Vice. Available at: https://www.vice.com/en/article/43paqq/twitter-is-shadow-banning-prominent-republicans-like-the-rnc-chair-and-trump-jrs-spokesman
- Stack, Liam. (2018). What Is a ‘Shadow Ban’, and Is Twitter Doing It to Republican Accounts? The New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/2018/07/26/us/politics/twitter-shadowbanning.html.
- Molina, Brett. (2018). Shadow banning: What is it, and why is Trump talking about in on Twitter. USA Today. https://www.usatoday.com/story/tech/nation-now/2018/07/26/shadow-banning-what-and-why-trump-talking-twitter/842368002/.