What is Happening on TikTok: Shadowbanning and Censorship

Updated: Feb 18


The social media app TikTok EXPLODED in 2020, partially due to downtime during the pandemic. The rise of a new platform led to a burst of content creators who finally had the time and means to try and make it as a creator. TikTok has helped creators gain recognition from the app and offered the rest of us unlimited entertainment. Unfortunately, as the app has grown in popularity some of the most prolific creators on the app have become frustrated and disappointed with ongoing shadowbans. For many users, these shadowbans have been severe enough that they’re considering quitting the app altogether.


What is a shadowban?

A shadowban is essentially a silent ban on a user’s account and some or all of their content. The reason it’s silent is so that the user is unaware the ban has occurred. It is often the result of uploading content or using hashtags that violate community guidelines. This includes content that is offensive, crude, contains nudity, violence, racism, or pornography, or promotes bullying. While a user may get a notification that their post, video, or comment has violated community guidelines and was removed, the shadowbans happen progressively as the result of community guideline violations or a platform’s suppression of a creator if the creator links prohibited sites into their TikTok bios.


The goal of the shadowbans is to protect TikTok’s young followers from adult content and bullying. This has become evident with the rise of sex workers having their TikTok accounts censored or banned, despite not posting any nudity on the platform, but promoting their alternative accounts. TikTok has also made an attempt to crack down on bullying by silencing those who are most prone to being bullied.


Although TikTok’s ideas are noble, their approach has been heavily criticized and impacts creators who don’t feel they have violated any community guidelines. For example, TikTok creator @s_johnson_voiceovers has 4.2 million followers but in late July of 2021 he posted a video discussing his community guideline violations for “bullying”, and he claims it’s his “fifth violation in 2 weeks” and is convinced his account will be banned despite being successful on the platform. He isn’t the only large creator going through the woes of facing violation after violation.


How does a shadowban impact engagement?

When someone’s account has been shadowbanned their video views will drop significantly, as will their likes, comments, and overall engagement. Even if they’re a verified account with millions of followers, they too can fall victim to shadowbanning and see a plummet in engagement.


An account that is shadowbanned is disabled from receiving messages and will not show up on anyones’ For You Page, which means their account will not be recommended to followers. This can be extremely detrimental to creators who use the platform to grow their brand and make money because TikTok’s payout is based on how many views a video receives. For a creator in the creator fund who isn’t getting as many views, that means they aren’t earning much money.


How to tell if your account is shadowbanned

Because shadowbanning is silent, a user will not be notified that they’ve been banned, but there are ways to tell if your account is suffering from this frustrating ghost ban.

One way to tell is to view your analytics. You can only do this with the account (you can easily switch to Pro anytime by going to the Settings and privacy on your page, click Manage account and you should see the option to Switch to Business Account or Switch to Pro Account). In your analytics, you can compare your video views and reach. If you realize your views, likes, and comments have been dramatically declining for several weeks or months it is most likely the result of a shadowban. Another way to check is to get onto the app through a different account and search for your creator account, if it doesn’t show up, that means you’re shadowbanned.


Some hashtags are also shadowbanned and the way to tell is to search for them. If they don’t come up or if they don’t have a video number on the right-hand side that means they’ve been shadowbanned either because they were overused or they violated the policies.


Why your account or videos get shadowbanned

For some users who get shadowbanned they sometimes never figure out the reason. This is because the policies aren’t always perfectly enforced or could be managed by bots. Many users have been banned from Livestreams for being cited as a minor, when in fact they were over 18. Other users have been told they violated community guidelines for showing nudity when they simply had their bare shoulders exposed, but no actual nudity was displayed. Ultimately when a user violates the community guidelines in some way, this typically results in a shadowban.


Sometimes when a video violates the community guidelines, TikTok will remove it from the platform. Other times if your video stays up, but is performing poorly it likely violated a community guideline but TikTok elected to leave it because it serves a valuable purpose to the public if it is deemed educational, informative, insightful, or artistic. Since the content is designed to better serve the community, TikTok will allow it, however, it will be hidden on the For You Page and its visibility or discoverability will be greatly diminished. According to Reuters, TikTok is deploying an update where they will automatically remove videos that violate their policies and hand down even stricter bans moving forward. To avoid shadowbans, accounts should avoid posting content that they know will violate TikTok’s policies.


Another way shadowbanning occurs is when TikTok suspect’s a bot is faking engagement on your behalf and flags it. For example, if you go on a spree of following other accounts and liking all of their posts, this can result in a shadowban on your end, It can also result in a shadowban for the accounts you interacted with. If you liked dozens of videos in a row of the same user, TikTok will also flag this as spammy behavior and can potentially shadowban that account as well if they suspect that user is asking for bot interactions. It’s best to avoid liking and following excessively in a short amount of time, not only for your sake but for other accounts as well.


Rules and policies to follow on TikTok to avoid this ban

As mentioned above, TikTok will take the liberty of removing videos they feel necessary, as verbatim by their community guidelines: “We will remove any content – including video, audio, Livestream, images, comments, and text – that violates our Community Guidelines. Individuals are notified of our decisions and can appeal if they believe no violation has occurred. We will suspend or ban accounts and/or devices that are involved in severe or repeated violations”


If your video contains nudity, whether a photograph, a painting, or any type of pornographic content, that is the quickest way to get shadowbanned or have your video removed altogether.


If you post content that uses slurs, racism, transphobia, homophobia, anti-Semitic language, or any type of language that is deemed offensive that could potentially result in a shadowban as well.


TikTok is also very strict on content that is violent because it aims to protect the minors who use the app. That means gore, videos depicting violence, even fake or scripted violence, or pictures of weapons are not allowed.


Any content that depicts drugs, illegal activity, criminal activity, dangerous behavior, and bullying of any kind will result in the automatic removal of one’s videos and potentially shadowbanning a user’s account. The same goes for content that is considered spammy, asking for engagement/follows or spreading misinformation.


How to work around the ban

Of course, following the guidelines listed in the link above, and ensuring that your content meets the app’s criteria is a great way to avoid getting shadowbanned. However, sometimes it can happen to even the best of them!


One option is that if you know a particular video of yours performed poorly and was shadowbanned, consider removing that video. Analyze the video and figure out why it performed poorly though. Was it the subject matter? Something you said? The visuals? Did you use a shadowbanned hashtag? Did you use audio that is banned? Be sure you know what it is so that you can avoid it in your future content. If there are multiple videos that you think were shadowbanned remove them as well.


You can also try changing your content up! Posting consistent, high-quality content will likely perform better but be sure to not post the same videos over and over again. Especially if it’s the content that got you shadowbanned in the first place. Having a variety of content might get you viewed more on the FYP (For You Page) because it caters to more audiences. When you do post new content, always, always avoid the controversial subjects outlined in the community guidelines.


Talk in Code. If you have spent several hours watching TikTok videos, you’ve probably seen many users censoring themselves in speech and captions by intentionally misspelling words to avoid getting banned or silenced. For example, the word “sex” is spelled like “s3x” or “seggs” and this seems to work thus far in getting past the tight censorship TikTok deploys. Not only will creators use these code words in their captions but they will refrain from saying the word at all in their video and simply point to the caption.


The last resort for many users is to create a whole new TikTok account and start over because sometimes shadowbans are permanent. If you do decide to create a new account, make sure you use a different IP address so the app doesn’t ban your new account too.


How long does a shadowban last?

For community guideline violations that occur back-to-back, creators find themselves banned for a temporary time of 24 -48 hours. With enough guideline violations though, shadowbans can be permanent as stated above but the overall consensus is 14 days. This means a user should follow guidelines to a T for the next 2 weeks to avoid extended or permanent bans. Think of it as a probation period. While you should always adhere to the rules laid out by TikTok, when you’re under a current shadowban it helps to remain extra careful. For some creators, a ban can last for weeks or even months. The good news is that if you at least make an effort to remove the shadow-banned content from your page and create videos that don’t violate TikTok’s policies, you could eventually save face from the app’s harsh restrictions within less than a month.



While TikTok has proven to be an engaging and hugely successful app for many of us who enjoy using it or creating videos on it, we’ve come to see the drawbacks it has with shadowbanning. The hope is that TikTok will loosen the reigns a bit on their restrictions and allow more freedom for creators, especially those in the creator fund. But for now, it’s best to play by the rules this clock app has laid out.


To learn more about using TikTok for your business please read our blog Is TikTok the Right Platform For Your Business.


 

Not sure how to get started marketing your business on social media? Contact us to start the conversation on how we can help!


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