Shadow banning is the practice of blocking or partially blocking users or content without this being apparent to users. This is done to avoid criticism or to waste the resources of spammers that may continue to post without knowing their posts aren't reaching anyone. The following are illustrative examples of shadow banning.
Shadow LockingLocking an account such that it can't post viewable or searchable content. The account may function exactly as it did before with the user able to logon and post content that they can see. The only difference is that nobody else sees their posts or messages.
Temporary LocksA shadow lock may expire. For example, a message board where users can be shadow banned for a month by an administrator for violating the rules or norms of the community.
Content BansShadow banning can operate at the level of a post or message whereby a user posts something that is flagged as against the policy of a platform. In this case the message may disappear without notice or may appear to the user who posted it but be hidden to other users.
Content SuppressionIn some cases, content isn't banned but is suppressed in things like search, feeds and recommendations such that it will be likely to receive few views. This is harder to detect as you may be able to view the content from multiple accounts but it never gets recommended to anyone.
Content RankingIn many cases, content that doesn't appear hasn't been shadow banned but has simply received a low ranking such that it is buried in a sea of content. For example, if other users regularly complain about your comments, your comments may end up receiving a low ranking such that they appear near the bottom of comments. In this case, your ranking is likely to fluctuate with time and may improve with positive feedback from other accounts.
Media TransparencyShadow banning is an example of poor media transparency. It is a best practice to inform users when they have been banned and give them the reasons. Ideally, this involves an appeal process.
Media BiasShadow banning makes it more difficult to detect and evaluate media bias. It may also lead to a culture of self-censorship whereby people fear they will become invisible if they express what they really think.
Honey PotsShadow banning may have valid uses for information security. For example, a bank that shadow bans accounts that have been hacked. This may resemble a honeypot whereby the compromised account is monitored to gain information about the culprits.
BotsGenerally speaking, shadow banning malicious bots isn't a failure of media transparency but is rather an information security tactic.
NotesShadow banning is an example of sidelining.
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