On top of the often-fabricated nature of many posts, both by brands and influencers, a part of the fraught relationship with Instagram stems from the platform’s seemingly never-ending changes. Since the 2018 Facebook shift, it can often feel like users are waiting for the other shoe to drop. Shannon Hunter, 32, a Vancouver-based social strategist, attributes this to a sense of ownership many users have with the platform. “We feel like social media is ours, and that we own it in a sense of the word. But we don’t,” Hunter tells Supermaker. “We like to feel ownership of it ... because we’ve created a space on that channel, but I’m still beholden to the terms of service. We feel emotionally connected to these pages we create … but we don’t truly own these companies.”
Even though users don’t own the platform, their content, or their accounts, they still fight to figure out how to best use it. Facebook Groups, group texts, and Instagram chats offer spaces where influencers and social strategists come together to brainstorm, air out their frustrations, and explore new opportunities for growth. As this takes place, one topic is often thrust into the spotlight: the ever-murky concept of shadowbanning. But is it real? Instagram’s Eva Chen, who directs fashion partnerships at Instagram, shared in 2017, “There are a lot of misconceptions about the algorithm like it’s this shadowy thing.” She asserted that shadow banning does not, in fact, exist.
“As far as shadowbanning, every week in influencer groups, someone will talk about how their post is doing badly and how they can’t reach their usual amount of likes, but I don’t think it’s always the algorithm,” Molu says, adding that she doesn’t think it’s out to get anyone. Terentieva agrees that the concept of shadowbanning is not as simple as the platform shoving certain posts aside. “I [personally] don’t believe in shadowbanning,” Terentieva explains, adding that those doing things on the platform that they shouldn’t, such as copying and pasting comments, will get in trouble eventually. “I don’t know if there’s some sort of secret, hidden thing behind any [single] action, but the things people talk about that you’ll get shadowbanned for are things that are shortcuts to begin with, like engagement pods.”
While shadowbanning remains shrouded in mystery, another concept is commonly discussed among experts: whether the platform, like Facebook, is now strictly pay-to-play. “It’s just a fact,” Molu says. “Instagram creators left because of Facebook being pay to play. That being said, everyone knows once you add #ad, your reach is throttled. Even in my contracts with brands, they’ll give me a budget to promote the post on their end because it’s the nature of the platform.”