Shadow banning

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Jump to navigation Jump to search

Shadow banning, also called stealth banning, hellbanning, ghost banning or comment ghosting, is the practice of blocking or partially blocking a user or the user's content from some areas of an online community in such a way that the ban is not readily apparent to the user. For example, shadow banned comments posted to a blog or media website will not be visible to other users accessing the site.

By partly concealing, or making a user's contributions invisible or less prominent to other members of the service, the hope may be that in the absence of reactions to their comments, the problematic or otherwise out-of-favour user will become bored or frustrated and leave the site, and that spammers and trolls will be discouraged to continue their unwanted behavior or create new accounts.[1][2][3]


The term "shadow ban" is believed to have originated with moderators on the website Something Awful, although the feature was only used briefly and sparsely.[2]

In the mid-1980s, BBS forums including Citadel BBS software had a "twit bit" for problematic users[2][4] which, when enabled, would limit the user's access while still allowing them to read public discussions; however, any messages posted by that "twit" would not be visible to the other members of that group.[2][5]

Michael Pryor of Fog Creek Software described stealth banning for online forums in 2006, saying how such a system was in place in the project management system FogBugz, "to solve the problem of how do you get the person to go away and leave you alone". As well as preventing problem users from engaging in flame wars, the system also discouraged spammers, who if they returned to the site would be under the false impression that their spam was still in place.[3] The Verge describes it as "one of the oldest moderation tricks in the book", noting that early versions of vBulletin had a global ignore list known as "Tachy goes to Coventry",[6] as in the British expression "to send someone to Coventry", meaning to ignore them and pretend they do not exist.

Early on, Reddit implemented a similar feature, initially designed to address spam accounts.[7] In 2015, Reddit added an account suspension feature.[8]

WeChat was found in 2016 to have banned, without notice, posts and messages that contain certain keywords.[7][9]

A study of tweets written in a one-year period during 2014 and 2015 found that over a quarter million tweets had been censored in Turkey via shadow banning.[10] Twitter was also found, in 2015, to have shadowbanned tweets containing leaked documents in the US.[11][12]

In 2017 the phenomenon was noticed on Instagram, with posts which included specific hashtags not showing up when those hashtags were used in searches.[13][14][15]

By 2021, Twitch implemented a shadow ban system where in the event that an account is directly banned from a channel, any alternate accounts created in the same IP would be able to send messages in the stream, although they would not be visible for any other users.[citation needed]

Other examples[edit]

A 2012 update to Hacker News introduced a system of "hellbanning" for spamming and abusive behavior.[16][17]

Craigslist has also been known to "ghost" a user's individual ads, whereby the poster gets a confirmation email and may view the ad in their account, but the ad fails to show up in the appropriate category page.[18]


Conspiracy theories[edit]

A form of conspiracy theory has become popular in which a social media content creator suggests that their content has been intentionally suppressed by a platform which claims not to engage in shadow banning.[19] Platforms frequently targeted by these accusations include Twitter,[2] Facebook,[20] YouTube and Instagram.[19]

To explain why users may come to believe they are subject to "shadow bans" even when they are not, Elaine Moore of the Financial Times writes:[19]

Like Uber drivers and Deliveroo couriers, social media influencers are at the mercy of algorithms. This makes them perfect fodder for conspiracy theories. It also makes sense that influencers would be baffled by any sudden decrease in engagement and spooked by changes that might jeopardise the brand deals they sign. Instead of believing that their own popularity is waning, some cling to the idea that shadowbans are a disciplinary measure that is used against creators who do not warrant an outright ban from a platform.


"Shadow banning" became popularized in 2018 as a conspiracy theory when Twitter shadow-banned Republicans.[21] In late July 2018, Vice News found that several supporters of the US Republican Party no longer appeared in the auto-populated drop-down search menu on Twitter, thus limiting their visibility when being searched for; Vice News alleged that this was a case of shadow-banning.[22] After the story, some conservatives accused Twitter of enacting a shadowban on Republican accounts, a claim which Twitter denied.[23] However, some accounts that were not overtly political or conservative apparently had the same algorithm applied to them.[24] Numerous news outlets, including The New York Times, The Guardian, Buzzfeed News, Engadget and New York magazine, disputed the Vice News story.[23][25][20][26][27][28] In a blog post, Twitter said that the use of the phrase "shadow banning" was inaccurate, as the tweets were still visible by navigating to the home page of the relevant account.[29] Later, Twitter appeared to have adjusted its platform to no longer limit the visibility of some accounts.[30] However, recent research shows that user-sided observations can highlight some notable differences in the visibility of several groups.[31][clarification needed]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Thompson, Clive (29 March 2009). "Clive Thompson on the Taming of Comment Trolls". Wired magazine. Retrieved 6 July 2014.
  2. ^ a b c d e Cole, Samantha (31 July 2018). "Where Did the Concept of 'Shadow Banning' Come From?". Motherboard. Retrieved 1 August 2018.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  3. ^ a b Robert Walsh (12 January 2006). Micro-ISV: From Vision to Reality. Apress. p. 183. ISBN 978-1-4302-0114-4. So one of the things we did in FogBugz to solve the problem of how do you get the person to go away and leave you alone is, well, you take their post and make it invisible to everyone else, but they still see it. They won’t know they’ve been deleted. There’s no one fanning their flame. You can’t get into a flame war if no one responds to your criticism. So they get silenced and eventually just go away. We have several ways of telling if they come back, and it’s been proven to be extremely, extremely effective. Say a spammer posts to your board and then they come back to check if it’s still there, and they see it—to them it’s still there—but no one else sees it, so they’re not bothered by it.
  4. ^ Atwood, Jeff (4 June 2011). "Suspension, Ban or Hellban?". Coding Horror blog. Retrieved 17 December 2011.
  5. ^ "Manual installation of Citadel using source code and the command line client -". Retrieved 20 December 2020.
  6. ^ Bohn, Dieter (16 February 2017). "One of Twitter's new anti-abuse measures is the oldest trick in the forum moderation book". The Verge. Retrieved 17 February 2017.
  7. ^ a b Ruan, Lotus; Knockel, Jeffrey; Ng, Jason Q.; Crete-Nishihata, Masashi (30 November 2016). "One App, Two Systems: How WeChat uses one censorship policy in China and another internationally - The Citizen Lab". The Citizen Lab. Retrieved 29 April 2017.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  8. ^ Shu, Catherine (November 11, 2015). "Reddit Replaces Its Confusing Shadowban System With Account Suspensions". TechCrunch. Retrieved 16 September 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  9. ^ Doctorow, Cory (December 2, 2016). "China's We Chat "shadow-bans" messages with forbidden keywords, but only for China-based accounts". Boing Boing. Retrieved 29 April 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  10. ^ Tanash, Rima S.; Chen, Zhouhan; Thakur, Tanmay; Wallach, Dan S.; Subramanian, Devika (1 January 2015). "Known Unknowns: An Analysis of Twitter Censorship in Turkey". Proceedings of the 14th ACM Workshop on Privacy in the Electronic Society. WPES '15. New York, NY, USA: ACM: 11–20. doi:10.1145/2808138.2808147. ISBN 9781450338202. S2CID 207229086.
  11. ^ Ohlheiser, Abby (30 October 2015). "Tweets are disappearing on Twitter. Why?". The Washington Post. ISSN 0190-8286. Retrieved 29 April 2017.
  12. ^ Pearson, Jordan (October 19, 2015). "Is Twitter Censoring a Blockbuster Report on US Drone Assassinations?". Motherboard. Retrieved 26 July 2017.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  13. ^ Lorenz, Taylor (7 June 2017). "Instagram's "shadowban," explained: How to tell if Instagram is secretly blacklisting your posts". Mic Network Inc. Retrieved 4 November 2017.
  14. ^ Wong, Kristin (April 23, 2017). "How to See If Your Instagram Posts Have Been Shadowbanned". Lifehacker. Retrieved 4 November 2017.{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  15. ^ "Photographers Claim Instagram is 'Shadow Banning' Their Accounts". PetaPixel. 28 March 2017. Retrieved 26 April 2017.
  16. ^ Leena Rao (18 May 2013). "The Evolution of Hacker News". TechCrunch. Retrieved 10 August 2014.
  17. ^ "Can the democratic power of a platform like Hacker News be applied to products?". Pando. 4 December 2013. Retrieved 1 August 2018.
  18. ^ Weedmark, David. "How to Prevent Ghost Posting on Craigslist".{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  19. ^ a b c Moore, Elaine (13 March 2022). "The truth about 'shadowbanning' is more complicated than influencers think". Financial Times. Retrieved 12 June 2022.
  20. ^ a b Feldman, Brian (25 July 2018). "Twitter Is Not 'Shadow Banning' Republicans". Intelligencer. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  21. ^ Romano, Aja (6 September 2018). "How hysteria over Twitter shadow-banning led to a bizarre congressional hearing". Vox.
  22. ^ Thompson, Alex (26 July 2018). "Twitter appears to have fixed "shadow ban" of prominent Republicans like the RNC chair and Trump Jr.'s spokesman". Vice News. Retrieved 15 August 2018.
  23. ^ a b Stack, Liam (26 July 2018). "What Is a 'Shadow Ban,' and Is Twitter Doing It to Republican Accounts?". The New York Times.
  24. ^ Eordogh, Fruzsina (31 July 2018). "Why Republicans Weren't The Only Ones Shadow Banned On Twitter".{{cite news}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  25. ^ Warzel, Charlie (July 26, 2018). "Twitter Isn't Shadow-Banning Republicans. Here's Why". BuzzFeed News. Retrieved 13 February 2019.{{cite web}}: CS1 maint: url-status (link)
  26. ^ Wilson, Jason (27 July 2018). "What is 'shadow banning', and why did Trump tweet about it?". The Guardian. ISSN 0261-3077. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  27. ^ Swapna Krishna (26 July 2018). "Twitter says supposed 'shadow ban' of prominent Republicans is a bug". Engadget. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  28. ^ Laura Hazard Owen (27 July 2018). "Twitter's not "shadow banning" Republicans, but get ready to hear that it is". Nieman Lab. Retrieved 13 February 2019.
  29. ^ "Setting the record straight on shadow banning". Twitter. Retrieved 8 September 2018.
  30. ^ Alex Thompson (26 July 2018). "Twitter appears to have fixed search problems that lowered visibility of GOP lawmakers". Vice. Retrieved 28 March 2019.
  31. ^ Le Merrer, Erwan; Morgan, Benoit; Trédan, Gilles (2020-12-09). "Setting the Record Straighter on Shadow Banning". arXiv:2012.05101 [cs.SI].