Urban Legends: Social Media Edition


I thought it’d be fun to debunk a few common social media urban legends

Gossip and conspiracy theories run rampant among social media professionals. We’re like online doomsday preppers. Most of the time these theories and conspiracies are based on hearsay –– except the one about Zuckerberg being a Lizard Person. That one is TOTALLY real. Here are a few rumors that have been dispelled.

Don’t worry, skeptics, I came with RECEIPTS.

NOTE: If you prefer to listen to a pleasant British lady reading my words, you’re in luck. A blog reader reached out and requested that I add an audio version of the blog to make it more accessible. Just click the button with the speaker up by the blog title.

  1. Shadow Ban

    Every time I see someone on Instagram claiming to have been “shadow banned” my eyes involuntarily roll into the back of my head. This rumor began with an Instagram glitch that was causing users’ posts not to surface in hashtag results. Instagram shared the following statement on Facebook in February of 2017: “We understand users have experienced issues with our hashtag search that caused posts to not be surfaced. We are continuously working on improvements to our system with the resources available…” You can find the full statement here.

    However, that did not put an end to the shadow ban hysteria. This rumor still persists. In writing this post, I actually scoured the internet for a more definitive statement from Instagram, but I didn’t have much luck. My theory is that Instagram doesn’t really want to go into great detail about how they DO limit users’ posts. As with Facebook, the Instagram algorithm is intentionally mysterious. Facebook doesn’t want people “gaming” the system, so it’s to their advantage if users are somewhat vague on the inner workings of their majestic algorithm.

    Reports showed that many users who were claiming to have been shadow banned around the time of the error in February, were no longer having issues by April of 2017 at the latest, which is when Instagram was able to fix the glitch in their system. You can find more information about that here. Though many users noticed their accounts returning to normal, a few still claimed to be banned. But why?

    The reason for this is pretty simple. It’s likely that Instagram caused the “bug in their system” while trying to remedy another problem on the platform –– spam. That’s right. Many of the users complaining to still be “shadow banned” were likely just victims of the algorithm being improved.

    It’s important to note that Instagram says they don’t downvote content from users who post too often or that use too many hashtags, etc. This article from SkedSocial does a good job summarizing the statement from Instagram, but that doesn’t mean you won’t be a victim of the algorithm if you participate in some of those activities.

    As with the current “bot purging”, Facebook is constantly trying to improve the Instagram app for users. They don’t want people abusing the platform because that will create a poor experience and drive users away in the long run. They might not individually ban you for repeating hashtags or posting too often, but if your followers unfollow/don’t engage with your posts or people regularly downvote/don’t interact with your photos when they show under specific hashtags (probably because you’re using random hashtags just to get exposure), your content may not be shown as often. This could make it seem like you’ve been banned, but really they’re just giving viewers what they want, and frankly, they’re just not that into you. (Ouch) Basically, if you’re cheating the system, the algorithm will find you. Think of it as Liam Neeson in Taken but younger and faster.

    Worried that you might be penalized for potentially spammy behavior? Social Media Examiner came out with a handy guide with best practices for the app to help you avoid potentially bad behavior. We can’t PROVE these behaviors are penalized by the algorithm, but most of them are good Instagram etiquette. Check that out here.

  2. Big following = Success

    Having a ton of followers is a vanity metric. If you have a huge following but none of them engage with your content or buy your product/services, you’ve really got an ego stroke and that’s about it. It’s nice to see that big shiny number when you wake up in the morning, but it doesn’t necessarily translate to sales –– especially if you acquire your followers by participating in shady business practices like using automation and bots. Every six months or so, Instagram clears out bots and spammy accounts. As you have probably seen this month, a lot of larger accounts lost big chunks of their following. Don’t feel too bad for them, they probably bought those accounts, the scalawags.

    Oh, and if you’re one of those people running automation campaigns to follow and unfollow people or those automations designed to leave random comments under photos with certain hashtags? Your days are numbered. Anything designed to game the system will eventually fall victim to the algorithm.

    Remember the Great Pod Crackdown of 2018? If you don’t, you can read more about that here. (Also, no one called it the Great Pod Crackdown, so that might be why you don’t remember it.) Basically, Facebook shut down many of the larger pod groups to eliminate some of the illegitimate engagements that accounts were getting. While they may not “know” that you and your 50 FB group members are in a pod, the algorithm is smart enough to notice patterns and will eventually catch on to this spammy behavior. The algorithm is always learning like that creepy robot, Sophia. (JK, Sophia, if you’re reading this please do not send your robot minions to kill me.)

  3. Using third-party platforms gets you penalized on FB/Instagram.

    This one has been debunked several times, but the rumor persists. I will concede the point that almost all of the entities debunking this myth are third-party platforms. But never you mind because I have gone above and beyond to provide you with evidence that using third-party apps to schedule your posts/engage with your followers will not get you penalized. Disclaimer: This does not extend to automation tools for the abhorrent behaviors mentioned previously. Those will almost definitely get you penalized. Agorapulse, Buffer and Falcon.io all did their own independent research to debunk this. Find that here, here and here (with an official statement from a FB rep.)

    Here’s what you need to know. Larger companies like Buffer, SproutSocial and the gang all have Facebook representatives or a “concierge” if you will. (You will.) AKA they have enough money that Facebook cares about their concerns. If you haven’t heard –– Facebook –– BIG fan of money. These larger companies are what’s known as “Facebook Partners”. This means they are authorized partners and you won’t be penalized for using their integrations with Facebook and Instagram. I don’t know what they had to do behind closed doors to become “partners”, but I'm betting there’s a secret handshake. To make it super easy for you to look up whether your third-party tool is an official partner, I’ve included a link to their official partner page here.

    There. Now you know the truth. I hope you can rest a little easier. (Pro tip: Looking up Zuckerberg Lizard rumor will NOT help you rest.)