Since their inception, social media platforms have historically served the purpose of being alternate channels of communication and information where freedom of speech and opinion prevail above most, not to say all, other facets of these apps.
A decade or so ago, television and newspapers were some of the only options available to keep up with the news and stay informed. Today, they have been left behind at the behest of their new-age competitors, with platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, leading the charge in disseminating real-time updates and incentivizing individuals to share their thoughts and experiences with a vast audience. Unfortunately, social media comes with its own set of problems as today’s platforms collectively struggle with the spread of misinformation online as well as social polarization. And recently, their algorithms are being put under strong scrutiny as a result of their ability to build an echo chamber based on the content you normally engage with or consume, potentially reinforcing pre-existing beliefs and limiting exposure to other perspectives and sources.
What’s more, this coded software, which dictates almost single-handedly what we can or can’t see, is now being decried for muting specific content on Instagram according to the agenda of their owners or stakeholders. Far from new, the phenomenon has managed to coin a term of its own: shadow-ban, which refers to the practice of limiting the visibility of certain posts, comments, and profiles by suppressing their reach and engagement on social media platforms without their knowledge. This form of censorship, which effectively silences voices, controls narratives, and serves the interests of those in power, challenges the very core principles of open and unrestricted communication in the digital world which was once considered a safe space for exchange and awareness-raising in the past.
Seemingly at play in the ongoing struggle of Palestinians, , thousands of accounts have reportedly witnessed a drastic drop in their story views, sometimes even seeing their content deleted following their posting about ongoing events in occupied territories. And it’s not the first time— in April 2022, part-Palestinian model Bella Hadid shared a statement claiming that Instagram shadow-bans her every time she posts about her father’s native country. “When I post about Palestine I get immediately shadow banned and almost 1 million less of you see my stories and posts,” she wrote at the time.
While many could surmise that the above is simply the fruit of one’s imagination, the European Union’s (EU) recent request forwarded to Mark Zuckerberg, Elon Musk, and Shou Zi Chew, who respectively sit at the helm of Facebook and Instagram, Twitter, and TikTok suggests otherwise. As the three social media giants have been pinned by several relevant authorities regarding the posting of “terrorist propaganda” on their platforms, it seems as if algorithms have conflated the above with support towards Palestine as since, advocates have seen their content suppressed and sidelined making it clear that the biased algorithmic content moderation is not a mere figment of our imagination but rather a reality with tangible consequences.
As a result, we’ve taken it upon ourselves to share a list of ways in which we can circumvent the ongoing shadow-banning of pro-Palestinian content and ensure it remains at the forefront of our feeds.
Change your privacy settings
Instagram automatically sets each profile to a “standard” level of exposure to sensitive content, which in their books, includes content about Palestine. To change this, head to your profile, click on “settings and privacy” then on “sensitive content” and re-adjust the level of you would like to see to “more.” This update will also apply to your Threads profile.
Share links, not posts
To increase story views and bypass algorithms, it has been said that sharing a link of a post in your story by using the “link function” is a workaround that some users have found effective.
Don’t update your apps
As new guidelines have been implemented into apps since the initial outbreak of resistance last week, apps have allegedly been coded to identify content supporting Palestine, leading to that engagement being dimmed. Keeping older versions of these apps has been suggested as a potential way to step around this content filtering.
Use alternative spelling
Apps can also recognize words but not if they are spelled wrong. Therefore, it has been recommended to spell key terms differently or use alternative words that convey the same meaning, allowing users to discuss sensitive topics and bypass potential keyword-based content restrictions.
Screenshot instead of reposting
If you repost anything on your Stories about Palestine, Instagram will shadow-ban you and prevent your post from being seen by your followers. Try screenshotting the posts about Palestine instead of directly reposting them on your Stories.