Shadow banning (also called stealth banning, ghost banning or comment ghosting) is the act of blocking a user or their content from an online community such that it will not be readily apparent to the user that they have been banned.
By 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.
In the mid-1980s, BBS forums including Citadel BBS software had a "twit bit" for problematic users. When enabled, the user would have limited access, and commonly still be able to read public discussions; however, any messages posted by that "twit" would be not shown to the other users.
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. 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", as in the British expression "to send someone to Coventry", meaning to ignore them and pretend they don't exist.
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.
Early on, Reddit implemented a similar feature, initially designed to address spam accounts, though it is also used for general users. In 2015, Reddit added an account suspension feature, though the site still makes extensive use of shadow banning.
In a study that looked at tweets from 2014 to early 2015, over a quarter million tweets were found during the one year period in Turkey to have been censored via shadow banning. Twitter was also found, in 2015, to shadowban tweets containing leaked documents in the US. In January and July of 2018, in response to allegations of shadow banning Twitter's legal and product leads stated that Twitter does not shadowban accounts, but that certain Republican Representatives who alleged shadow banning had their tweets not show in readers' timelines. There is some controversy as to whether or not that statement by a Twitter spokesperson is technically correct. United States President Donald Trump has alleged that Twitter employs the practice, and has threatened an investigation.
In late July 2018, Vice News found that several republicans were no longer searchable on Twitter. Following this finding, some conservatives accused Twitter of enacting a shadowban on Republican accounts, which Twitter flatly denied. However, some accounts that were not overtly political or conservative were apparently shadow banned. Later, Twitter restored the impacted accounts.
- Ban (law)
- Block (Internet)
- Kill file
- Plonk (Usenet)
- Usenet Death Penalty
- Section 230 of the Communications Decency Act
- Thompson, Clive (29 March 2009). "Clive Thompson on the Taming of Comment Trolls". Wired magazine. Retrieved 6 July 2014.
- 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.
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- Wong, Kristin. "How to See If Your Instagram Posts Have Been Shadowbanned". Lifehacker. Retrieved 2017-11-04.
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- 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.
- "What Is a 'Shadow Ban,' and Is Twitter Doing It to Republican Accounts?". July 26, 2018.
- "Why Republicans Weren't The Only Ones Shadow Banned On Twitter". July 31, 2018.