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  • Writer's pictureBeth Linton

Blocked from Instagram: Instajail

If you are reading this, you have likely found yourself blocked from Instagram and you very well might have no idea why. This blog is aimed at users of Instagram who have accidently fallen afoul of the Instagram algorithm.

What’s in this blog?

· Why you might have been blocked: the Instagram Algorithm.

· What are the Instagram rules?

· Help! How do I get my account working again?

· How do I avoid a return to Instajail?

· 5 Tips on working with the Instagram Algorithm rather than against it.

· Final thoughts…

Why you might have been blocked: Instagram Algorithm

I’m what I’d class as a regular ‘normal’ user of Instagram. I started my account when I signed the contract for my first book and I use the account to share my ideas and experiences as a writer, connect with other writers, and, yes, promote my series. Part of using Instagram is gaining followers and that means following people. I was blocked because, bored one lockdown morning, I followed too many people in one go via a book lovers follow loop and I posted too many repetitive comments, e.g., ‘followed’ or ‘followed back’.

Getting a block was a shock. I wasn’t being mean or following to unfollow people. I wasn’t aware I’d broken any rules, or that there were caps on certain activities I could perform in one go. Yes, in hind sight, I definitely used Instagram too much that morning, but I didn’t know it could gain me a temporary block.

So why did behaviour I saw as harmless get me blocked?

From what I read while I freaked out and desperately tried to get my account working again (yes – I was definitely using Instagram too much!) the block comes down to an algorithm and this algorithm has been updated in 2020.

The good news: this algorithm was designed to stop spam and the use of bots so Instagram users have a better experience. It gets to know you (your use, likes and interests) and directs posts you may like higher into your feed.

The bad news: sometimes genuine, human users accidently echo the behaviour of a bot and the algorithm can’t tell the difference. If the algorithm thinks you are a bot you will get a ban. And these bans come without any warning.

How long is a block and, for the love of goodness sake, is it permanent?

From what I’ve read, bans vary in length and severity. Some will be partial (so you can still do everything but not follow/unfollow), others are complete. The length varies. A ban for lesser offences are a couple of hours, others a few weeks. This uncertainty may seem rather cruel to the user who finds themselves blocked through a genuine mistake. I did read on one site that this is done intentionally by Instagram to improve the effectiveness of the punishment. If a business was using a bot, for example, and knew their ban was two weeks long they would simply turn off and return at that date. By keeping you hanging, the blocked user is forced to return again and again, breaking into a sweat each time they press like to check if they are allowed to participate. As you are reading this I am sure you know the hideous feeling when you realize you can’t.

If Instagram ran prisons, there would be little reoffending.

The good news: these kind of blocks are not permanent. Your account will not disappear. If you commit a serious infringement of their code and conduct they can delete your account but they recently instated an appeals process and you are given the option to download content – so this means your account won’t vanish in a puff of smoke, so breathe.

See how you can try and get your account working again a little further below.

What are the Instagram rules?

Here’s the tricky thing… it’s really hard to know!

After my block I read the terms and conditions and I also read the community guidelines that lay out codes of behaviour on Instagram (yes, like you, I ticked them as I joined but I didn’t really look). The terms changed in November 2020 so I read those too. Even after reading these documents I am still not clear about what exactly you can and can’t do in terms of likes, comments, follows and unfollows.

From what I’ve read on various websites, it seems that the rules vary from user to user so it isn’t a surprise that I struggled to find the ‘answer’. If you are a new user (like I was) you have much less freedom to follow etc. than someone who has been using Instagram for a long time and has a lot of followers.

From what I can tell the rules are:

1. You can follow a certain number of people in a site session (likely an hour) but the number is unclear and depends on your account age etc. If you follow too many you look like a bot.

2. You can unfollow a few people in a site session (likely an hour) but the number is unclear and much lower than the follow number. If you unfollow too many you look like a bot.

3. Do not follow and unfollow people in the same site session (even if they are different people) as you look like a bot.

4. You can like and make comments but if you like too many posts too quickly you look like a bot.

5. Instagram does not like apps that you can download which offer to help you use Instagram as they go against the ‘spirit of the community’. I have never used one of these so I can’t say more than this.

6. Instagram wants genuine users who grow slowly and organically. Anything too quick and too frequent sets off Instagram alarm bells… even if it is you, bored in lockdown, and nothing sinister.

7. Don’t @name lots of people in posts or DM lots of people you don’t follow.

8. Use # but use them with thought. Some are banned and, I believe, you need to add variety – so don’t just use the same few over and over again (like you might on Twitter).

9. Be very careful if you join a follow train. The track can all too easily lead to Instajail.

Help! How do I get my account working again?

So, here’s all the things I read as possible solutions on many different websites. I hope it saves you some stress.

· Leave your account alone: Every site I visited said to leave your account completely inactive for a period of time. Suggestions varied from 24 hours to 7 days. The school of thought seems to be that the account will reset. But if you leave your account alone how do you know if it’s working again? There’s the rub. One site said that checking and pressing like once is okay but stop immediately if your blocked message pops up. Perhaps leave for 48 hours before you even try this? (This didn’t work for me.)

· Change from Wi-Fi to phone data: Some sites suggested your block might be linked to your IP address so by using a different internet source your account might work (this didn’t work for me).

· Log in via a PC: Some sites suggest using a different PC/iPad etc. rather than your usual phone/other to gain access (I didn’t try this).

· Continue Posting: One site said that even though you can’t/shouldn’t use your account you should still post (2 posts in that week) so the algorithm learns that you aren’t a bot. I tried this and posted 1x when I was on day 6 of my 8 day ban. I didn’t try and add # or make a comment as I read these could be deleted or cause a problem. IG did let me post.

· Report the problem: On your screen you likely have some sort of message about limiting number of activities or it might say you are blocked. If there is a ‘tell us’ option to let them know they made a mistake press it (I did this twice over 8 days but nothing happened so I don’t know what the wait time is or if it works).

· Delete the app off your phone and then download it again. THIS WORKED FOR ME! I did this and could use Instagram again immediately – after an 8 day block. If I hadn’t done this I don’t know how long the block would have lasted. The idea here is that the behaviour that got you blocked is linked to the downloaded app rather than your account.

How do I avoid getting sent to Instajail again?

If you were sent to Instajail you need to learn from your mistake because if you do the offending behaviour again your sentence might be much tougher.

  • Firstly, read the rules above so you know what you can and can't do.

  • Go slow: as tempting as it is to rush in and follow loads of people in one go, don’t do it.

  • Hourly limits: I’m no techy but it seems Instagram limits actions by the hour. The company wants you to use it frequently and steadily. Complete different actions at different times of the day.

  • DO NOT follow people and unfollow people in one session (plus follow to unfollow is rude).

  • If you have been blocked go slowly upon your return. On your first return don’t risk angering the Instagram gods. Like a post and add a comment to another. Maybe, that’s it. Build up use again slowly.

  • Think carefully before you follow – unfollowing can easily get you into trouble, so be sure about who you want to follow.

  • If you really want to unfollow only unfollow a few in one session. I do 4 max - but you may be able to do more. The price is too high for me to try!

  • DO NOT return to the behaviour that got you in trouble in the first place. I learned my lesson and I definitely don’t want the punishment again! I'm not sure how long it takes Instagram to forgive and forget but you will be on a shorter leash for a while.

  • Read the ‘terms and conditions’ and ‘Community Guidelines’. These were updated in November 2020.

  • If you use any apps etc. to track who follows you, or to like posts etc. get rid of them.

  • Don’t post repetitive comments either in words or in emojis as you look like a bot. Change it up.

  • Don’t over post – I read between 3-6 posts a week is optimum. I post around six times a week. Consistency is important rather than flooding - flooding is another IG no-no.

  • DO NOT post lots of unoriginal content that has been posted elsewhere. Some users post several posts a day and the content are spam like, for example, copies of book adverts posted by ARC readers. While well intentioned, the algorithm notices this unoriginal content and its spam/bot antenna lifts.

5 Tips on working with the Instagram Algorithm rather than against it.

1. Consistently turn up – the algorithm tracks your use to direct content you’d like your way, but this works the other way too. By being consistent you send the algorithm positive messages. Plan and schedule all of your Instagram posts, captions, and hashtags in advance so you can be more consistent with your posting strategy.

2. Engagement 1 When it comes to feed performance, the algorithm prioritizes content that receives the most engagement. According to Instagram, the most important engagements for feed ranking are comments, likes, re-shares, and for video posts, views. Saves may also be important in the future. How can I boost engagement? Use Instagram stickers on your stories – polls, questions, emoji and slider stickers work best.

3. Engagement 2 – Instagram likes comments on your posts. So how can you increase them? Drive conversations with engaging captions and comments. Ask a question or invite readers to share their thoughts or tag a friend.

4. Embrace Instagram’s latest features! Have you made a reel yet? I haven’t but I should. Instagram will boost its new feature's users to give the new feature a helping hand.

5. If you are ready to embrace the tech you could use Instagram Analytics to see which of your posts are working to engage your audience.

Final thoughts... #phonefreefriday

This bit’s a little personal: Getting a block definitely changed my relationship with Instagram.

Before I was published I used little social media but upon becoming an author I embraced it. I use Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter but Instagram became my favourite quickly… but my love relationship with Instagram has now become more ambivalent. I was shocked by how difficult I found being blocked. It really upset me – and I know that a block from a social media platform shouldn’t have upset me that much. I think part of my upset was that I received a block for breaking rules I didn’t know existed. I felt like the child in school who receives a punishment for inadvertently breaking rules they were never told about and I was filled with a sense of anger, panic and dismay. I also believe it bothered me so much because I was feeling very isolated in lockdown. I was using Instagram to not only try and get my writing career off the ground but to connect with other authors. Having this platform taken away in what felt like an arbitrary fashion upset me and I honestly don’t think it would have bothered me even a tenth as much if life had been normal rather than the ‘new normal’.

And this brings me on to my final point – mental health and social media.

Once you have your account back, ensure you take time away from your phone. Social media has been designed to make it addictive so be careful. I’m still an active user but once my block ended I handled my phone almost like it was a bomb that that could go off. I felt really uneasy as I followed or made a search in case I accidently angered the Instagram Algorithm, and this uneasy emotional response is evidence that while using Instagram adds to my life in wonderful ways it also increases my anxiety.

Ironically, you can find @bethlintonauthor on Instagram and also on Facebook, Pinterest and Twitter.

  • To find out about my novels click here and visit my books page where you can find the blurb for the first five books in the romance series.

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