Instagram has a set of anti-spam systems that prevent automation and profile data scraping. What are the Instagram usage safety rules? What to do if you got action blocked? Is shadow ban a myth? This guide covers it all.
To keep users active and retained and make revenue from running ads, Instagram is keen on making sure the engagement on the platform stays organic.
There are measures and internal systems in place that track individual account behaviour and exercise certain restrictions if account is believed to be unauthentic or is trying to game the platform to grow vanity metrics. All specifics of those systems are not known to the public but some can still be deduced.
The social network site has claimed before to rely on machine learning to identify bot and spam accounts. Machine Learning is a wide range of techniques in computer science that facilitate the system’s learning over time and getting better at delivering results, in this case spotting spammy user behaviour.
Naturally, as these systems are getting better over time they do make many mistakes and false positives are very common. You can get action blocked or worse for liking a lot of posts manually, or engaging with your account from multiple devices in a short period of time, or even get unlucky by switching over to a flagged IP address etc.
There are simply no guarantees to not being blocked. But a lot can be done to stay as safe as possible?
What may happen to an Instagram account?
Here is a list of bad things that may happen to your account if Instagram's Machine Learning believes your account is acting spammy:
- Account deactivation (permanent ban).
This is very rare but may happen if your account gets reported for violating Instagram Terms of Services by others (such as posting prohibited content) while simultaneously trying to game the system by running bots or selling likes as a service.
- Request to change account password.
This is increasingly common lately and happens if you engage with your account from multiple devices at the same time. The simplest solution is to avoid engaging with your account from multiple devices, change your password and revoke your account access from the 3rd party systems under Instagram Account Settings on your mobile device.
- Your IP gets flagged.
IPs are flagged if there are multiple sessions on the same IP that exercise suspicious behaviour. That is why publicly available proxies rarely work on Instagram and sharing the same IP for more than 5 accounts is usually a bad idea.
- Profile Visit Block (error 429).
If you navigate to too many account pages in a short period of time, Instagram will ban you from doing so for the next 12 hours and will be showing a “Try again later” message as you navigate to Instagram profiles.
The limit of account checks varies and is around 300 a day for a single session and twice as much for IP addresses.
- Session Action Block (error 400).
This is very common and happens if you like too many posts, leave a lot of comments (especially repetitive and spammy), send an excessive volume of DMs or follow / unfollow too many accounts in a single day.
If your Mobile Session gets blocked then the only solution is to wait for an unblock which typically happens in 24-48 hours.
If your Desktop Session gets blocked then the session is lost and you will have to logout from Instagram, log back in and wait for 24-48 hours.
Reducing the number of likes / comments / follows / DMs you do on a daily basis after the session action block is paramount to avoid new action blocks.
- Account Action Block.
If your sessions are getting action blocked repeatedly your entire account is under risk of receiving an action blocked. Account wide block means you won’t be able to like, follow, leave comments or send DMs (depending on the nature of the block) for a certain period of time from any session for that account.
Waiting out and reducing the number of actions you’re making on your account is the only solution for this type of block.
- Hashtag Misuse Shadowban.
Your account is shadowbanned if you’re using the same hashtags over and over again or use banned hashtags such as #alone. You can check if a hashtag is banned by navigating to the hashtag page and looking for the Recent Posts section. Banned hashtags do not have Recent Posts shown.
If your account is shadowbanned then people that do not follow you will stop seeing your posts appearing under hashtag search. This nullifies your account discoverability from hashtags.
To test if you’re shadow-banned, publish a post with at least one low-volume (rare) hashtag and ask your friend to unfollow you and try to locate that post under that hashtag. You can do the same if you have a second or backup account.
The only solution to the problem is to change your hashtags or to stop using them altogether for a while and wait. It always passes with time.
It is not easy to tell what numbers are safe but the general consensus is if your account isn’t fresh (at least 2 months old), has a good previous standing with Instagram and was not action blocked in the past few weeks then the safe limits are around 250 likes / day, 80 follows / day, 80 comments / day.
It is easier to think about anti-spam systems in terms of Trust Scores.
Each account, device, session and IP address on Instagram is assigned an internal trust score which changes over time with the actions taken by account. Once a trust score is depleted, a number of bad things may happen to your account as mentioned above.
It is not possible to know your account's trust score and whether you’re close to depleting it. However there are factors that play the role in both increasing and decreasing your trust scores.
Positive Trust Score Factors
Factors that play positive role in increasing your trust score:
The more time passes, the higher the trust score. Trust score naturally builds up over time, plus older accounts are less susceptible to being penalized.
- Organic engagement.
The more your audience engages back the better. That includes Direct Messages, comments, likes and follows you receive organically.
High engagement shows Instagram that your content resonates with the audience. So make sure you engage with your audience in a meaningful way, ask questions in your posts, facilitate discussion and post great content.
- Followers count.
The more followers you have the higher your max trust score. Please be aware it is not recommended to purchase followers as your account engagement suffers from followers that do not engage with your posts.
Engagement is a key factor for Instagram to promote your posts and account under hashtag and location search and explore page so purchasing followers is counter-productive.
- The nature of your IP address.
Mobile IPs have the highest trust scores, then Residential IPs and finally Datacenter IPs and shared proxies. If you’ve happened to be on a public WiFi you’re effectively sharing the channel with multiple Instagram users. This IP may get flagged and, as a consequence, your session temporarily blocked from taking certain actions such as navigating to user profiles or liking posts.
Negative Trust Score Factors
Then there are factors that play a negative role such as:
- Excessive use of certain actions.
Sending too many likes, comments, following and then unfollowing accounts, spammy DMs and other types of reciprocity hacks depletes the trust score and can easily lead to session blocks.
For that reason try to engage with users that are more likely to engage back and do not go overboard with likes, follows, comments and DMs.
- Simultaneous actions.
Accessing your account simultaneously from multiple devices or IP addresses. This gives a hint to Instagram you might be running a 3rd party system or have shared your password with such.
To stay safe, make sure not to engage with your account from multiple devices at the same time especially liking, commenting or following.
- Being reported by others.
Your account may get reported for a number of reasons but that typically happens if others find your account too spammy. Try to engage with others in a meaningful way, avoid leaving repetitive or spam comments that feel out of context, work on publishing great content that gives value to your audience and so on.
- Action blocks in the past.
If one of your sessions was action blocked recently then other sessions will be action blocked faster. Make sure to drastically decrease the number of actions you take on your account such as likes / follows / comments / DMs if you’re action blocked.
- The nature of your IP address.
As mentioned above, Mobile IPs have the highest maximum trust scores, Residential IPs have lower actions quota and Data Centers have the lowest ones.
How to stay safe?
In growing your Instagram account nothing beats great content, consistency in bringing value and engaging with others in a meaningful way. This is what Instagram is all about.
So to stay safe, make sure your content resonates with your audience, engage in genuine and meaningful ways, relevant to your audience, do not leave spammy comments and so on. Working on engagement is very important to building your audience on Instagram.