It’s late at night. You are sitting at your computer telling yourself you should go to bed, but continuously giving it five more minutes. You are tired, but there is so much to see on your favorite sites: Reddit, StumbleUpon, Pinterest… How can you possibly sleep when there are so many things to check out and share?
But wait… Didn’t you already share that one? Why isn’t that site on SU listed as your discovery when you know you discovered it just an hour before? In fact, you suddenly notice that none of your activity seems to be showing up at all. It is like you don’t even exist on the site… Spooky!
Is it a bug? Possibly, every website suffers from them sometimes, and the interactive features can be the first to go haywire. For those sites that have a server maintenance scheduled, it is a likely culprit. But another possibility is that something much more sinister might be afoot. You could have been “ghost banned.”
Don’t worry, your computer isn’t haunted. At least, I’m pretty sure it isn’t. You never know. What it means is that you have been turned onto a kind of mandatory invisible mode while the site investigates you for possible spamming or other service violations. In other words, you have become a “ghost” that no one can see.
What Is Ghost Banning?
Ghost banning is “smart” banning. It’s a way to lets spammers continue to spam without anyone else within the community (or outside it) seeing what they do. It’s like making everyone happy. Spammers are looking for ways to create more accounts and hack the system while the community is not suffering from the spam.
However, like with any other type of banning, “almost” innocent people may fall prey as well. Let’s clearly understand the details, and try to stay off radar.
The idea is a pretty simple one. Let’s say you are on a particular site, and you have been getting a lot of flags on comments or submissions, or maybe you have been down voted a little too frequently. Whatever the case, you ended up on the website’s radar, so now they are officially watching you. All in the hope of doing three things:
- Establishing whether or not you are a spammer
- Gathering enough evidence to ban you from the site entirely
- Keeping you harmless while keeping you clueless
Now, all of this might sound a little shady. But the practice is actually very much above board, and it’s a better way to do it than we have seen from social media sites in the past. It allows the staff to monitor you and find out if the activity was a fluke, or if you really are violating the conditions of the site. They are not immediately jumping to the conclusion that you have done something wrong, giving you a chance to redeem yourself before any consequences are given.
However, in the meantime, you might see that your activity is being hidden. Users who originally posted something might not be able to see your comment, like, or recommendation, for example. That is frustrating, but it should stop once the ghost ban has been lifted and you are given full access to the site once again.
Why This Can be “Deadly” For Marketers
For marketers that are just starting out, you are more susceptible to ghost banning than ever. Especially on Twitter. This is simply because new accounts or more likely to be “spammer” accounts. And of course this makes it more difficult to begin your journey into internet marketing.
For the seasoned marketer, we have tips in the post to keep you from getting ghost banned. As marketers we’re always looking for angles to up our ability to spread messages – but sometimes this urge can lead us into bad places. Therefore, it’s important to know what not to do, in order to keep our social media accounts in good standing
Sites That Ghost Ban
There is no way of getting a full list of sites that do ghost banning. But recently, there have been more reports from StumbleUpon, Twitter and Reddit, both of which appear to use ghost banning to curb the increasing problem of spam and trolling through the sites. With any social media site, a general red flag that could mean there is a ghost ban is a decreased visibility of your shares and votes.
In most cases, what leads to a ghost ban is (excessive) self promotion that results in reports and red flags.
Here’s how to make sure:
Twitter Ghost Banning
A Twitter ghost ban is the least intrusive. You are unlikely to even notice it unless you follow a particular hashtag or try to participate in a Twitter chat.
Red flags: You don’t see your tweets in search results for a hashtag. (Make sure to click from default top results to “All” tweets.) In some cases (which may depend on the ban level), Twitter would remove ALL search results for your username, so [from:@username ] would return nothing. (Make sure your tweets are not protected because some people check this option by accident when experimenting with various twitter options).
Twitter official rules: Twitter doesn’t explicitly disallow any kind of self promotion. However, it does have a broad definition of spam that includes the following:
- If your updates consist mainly of links, and not personal updates
- If a large number of people are blocking you
- If you post duplicate content over multiple accounts or multiple duplicate updates on one account
- If you post multiple unrelated updates to a topic using #
It won’t also suggest you are banned even when you try to identify the problem. But the problem really exists, and I have seen a few people who can’t tweet to Twitter chats (no one in Twitter chat sees his/her tweets).
How to avoid getting ghost banned by Twitter: There’s no way to be absolutely sure if you were ghost banned or not. (For example, your tweets may be randomly absent from search results with no obvious consistency.) But people seem to suggest that the content of your tweets may have something to do with it. (There is a reason why Google banned all apps that allowed recurring tweets.) So the best way to avoid being banned is: (1) to never post the same links many times, and (2) post unlinked tweets as well (that is, Tweets that contain no links).
StumbleUpon Ghost Banning
Red flags: You discovered a page, and then you went to another browser and clicked to review the page, but you are invited to discover it again. Or you go back to the reviews of the page which you remember you discovered, but it states it was discovered by someone else. (Both of these can be glitches, so please check a couple of times before going into a panic.)
StumbleUpon official TOS: StumbleUpon doesn’t directly prohibit liking “your own pages.” What it really frowns upon is when you get aggressive promoting stories that you own or are affiliated with, especially when you send those pages to your friends using “Send to” tool.
The restrictions on accounts include this statement: “Accounts may not be created or used with the primary intention to promote a product or service unless expressly authorized in writing by StumbleUpon, and any such accounts may be subject to deletion by StumbleUpon.”
Here’s more information on self promotion from SU official blog:
“Don’t self promote too much. Recommending too many pages from your own domain can be considered spam. … Disproportionately recommending pages from a domain you own or with which you’re affiliated is frowned upon by other members of the StumbleUpon community, and can actually result in those pages being recommended by StumbleUpon even less frequently to other users.”
How to avoid getting ghost banned by StumbleUpon: The most widespread cause of being ghost banned is giving a thumbs up to “black listed” sites again and again. We all love our social media contacts, but if one of your friends seems to be pushing the same site regularly, he/she might be under StumbleUpon’s radar already. So don’t put your account in a bad neighborhood by liking these same domain pages.
StumbleUpon likes variety: variety in domains you discover, share, and like. While your favorite sites are varied here, you should be safe!
Another thing to stay away from is using irrelevant tags. If your tags do not really relate to the page you are discovering, this may result in irrelevant views, and your discovery may be reported. A couple of user reports may trigger a ghost ban to investigate your account further.
Reddit Ghost Banning
Red flags: Log out of Reddit, and then go to your profile page. If you see a 404 page, you are in trouble.
Reddit official TOS: The official Reddit etiquette doesn’t disallow self promotion when used cautiously and moderately:
“Feel free to post links to your own content (within reason). But if that’s all you ever post, and it always seems to get voted down, take a good hard look in the mirror – you just might be a spammer. A widely used rule of thumb is the 9:1 ratio, i.e. only 1 out of every 10 of your submissions should be your own content.”
How to avoid getting ghost banned by Reddit: The tricky thing about Reddit is that the rules actually depend on the subreddit you are submitting to. So read and comment a lot first before submitting your own links. Watch how people react to various types of submissions within a specific subreddit, and then act accordingly.
Sandboxed Vs Ghost Banned
This is very important. If you are new to social media, you may be very discouraged by the above article. But don’t panic if you notice any of the above red flags. It could be that you have been sandboxed, not banned.
Yes, there is another process that websites use for protection from spammers, which is known as sandboxing. This is about giving your submissions less visibility until your account earns trust.
Pinterest is one of the popular sites that seem to be using the process. New accounts there have less visibility in search results or categories even if they use the exact match tags.
But there is no reason to despair. While sandboxing may be inconvenient, it’s a measure that must be taken to protect communities from spammers. Just give it some time, and play by the rules.
Tips to Avoid Being Ghost Banned
Different social networks have their own opinions on what is spamming; however we see some definitive trends here that we would like to note. Adhere to these guidelines if you want to be safe from a ghost ban:
- Follow and watch power users in your category (see what and how they share)
- Don’t post the same link more than once
- Don’t share links from only your domains (think “variety”)
- Don’t associate with potential spammers (that send same domain links for you to share)
- Vary update types: share and like articles and media; if possible, send “unlinked” updates
You may not have any idea you are being ghost banned. At least not at first, though over time you may begin to suspect. What you should do to protect yourself is be careful that what you post isn’t against the terms and conditions of the site, that you never spam content, that you don’t start fights or troll users for no reason, and that you watch who you have friended on your account (because a friend who is ghost banned may end up dragging you down with them).
In the end, just being polite and not spamming links is usually enough to keep you from becoming one of the haunted ghost users of these sites.
Image Credit: Ghost Keyboard
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About the Author: Ann Smarty is the serial guest blogger running My Blog Guest, the free guest blogging and content sharing platform. Ann is also a proud branding and community manager for Internet Marketing Ninjas founded by Jim Boykin and based in Clifton Park.