There is an outrage on social media over the suspension of Twitter accounts of journalists after they tweeted about the viral video where a teacher is seen asking students to slap up a Muslim student.

Many prominent users complained of their tweets being blocked.

Experts believe this has become a pattern, especially for similar issues, where emergency powers to block URLs are invoked.

The Citizen reached out to many influencers who revealed how their accounts are suspended for tweeting or sharing political posts concerning the government. However, they said it went beyond just the government. Others faced frequent shadow bans on Instagram.

An Instagram shadowban is an unofficial ban that restricts an account’s visibility (in users’ feeds, stories, explore pages etc.), negatively affecting reach. It can happen when an account posts sensitive content. What makes it different from a regular ban is that users are not notified when their account is shadowbanned.

“Some right-wing organisations reported a post I had shared on Instagram about Kashmir after which my account was suspended and I started receiving death threats, to which there has been no arrests till date,” Radhika (name changed on request), an artist from Bangalore said.

Other users also said that their posts were not even political in nature. “Someone just made a fake account in my name to scam people and despite repeated requests the account is not getting suspended, which is ironic because people’s account gets suspended for far less issues,” Madhur, who works with an NGO said.

Ankita Apurva, an independent journalist based in Jharkhand had her account shadow banned and almost suspended when she shared a post about problematic teachers post the Uttar Pradesh video.

“I had made a post about a problematic teacher I had in school and how they openly talked about Aryan superiority and used to assert it wherein many upper caste children would join him. After posting this along with some hashtags, I saw Instagram took down my account. My account is now restricted like I can not go live for the next two months. It also said that if I keep posting this then Instagram will suspend my account. Shadow ban is normal,” she told The Citizen.

She also said how when she shares her photos, the reach is so high but whenever she talks or shares about important issues, she is shadow banned.

While individuals on Instagram, Twitter and even Facebook have been witnessing account suspension or ban, big media organisations have also been the victim of it.

In 2021 organisations like The Caravan faced suspension from Twitter over farmers’ protest. Likewise, many other organisations faced the same issue.

A Manipur based activist told The Citizen how many people’s accounts have been suspended on Twitter for sharing information. “It is ironic that we need these platforms but they also use algorithms to limit our reach,” the activist added.

Many users have also called out these platforms for curbing freedom of speech, especially since the current government came into power.

Aruna (name changed on request) is a Delhi based researcher and activist who has also worked on the Data Protection Bill, who said, “I have been shadow banned for more than two weeks now. I have been posting content that is critical and questions many policies of the Government. This clampdown also came soon after the Data Protection Bill became an Act. Now, many friends and people who engage with my content aren’t able to see what I want to. Freedom of speech is reserved for the rich and powerful now; people who collaborate with the Government’s ideologies. The further clampdown on any dissent is palpable given that the country’s capital is hosting G20, resources sold and Constitutional safeguards desiccated,” she added.

Experts said that Instagram suspensions are a common issue experienced by content creators. “What’s worse, it often happens for no reason, and recovering the account can be a confusing, frustrating and slow process,” Rafael Broshi, CEO of an organisation called Notch said in one of his blogs.

On Twitter, ever since businessman Elon Musk took over Twitter now called X, accounts of many journalists, especially those who have called him out have been suspended.

“You doxx, you get suspended. End of story. That’s it,” Musk had said, explaining his latest policy.

In India, while there have previously been various reports alleging the Indian government for using “legal demands” to get accounts and posts removed, many believe the algorithm itself has changed both on Instagram and Twitter.

“It is no surprise honestly. There is a major rise in right wing power dynamics in major parts of the world. The ones handling social media are not activists but businessmen. From Elon Musk to Mark Zuckerberg, these men now control what we post and consume. On top of that they align with the thought process of the problematic governments,” an activist based in Delhi, on the condition of anonymity, told The Citizen.

For Instagram, the violated Terms of Use or Community Guidelines, include posting copyrighted, inappropriate or misleading content. However, many feel that a lot of content on social media violates the terms and conditions of the app, but walk free.

“I literally report so many posts abusing women or certain communities. These are not just hate speeches, these are violent in nature, but Instagram has never taken them down,” Madhulika, who works at an MNC in Gurgaon said.

Experts have, however, found loopholes on how one can avoid getting shadow banned on Instagram.

It is important to note that according to Instagram, shadowbanning is not practiced on the platform — but so many users claim to be affected by mysterious restrictions that the myth lives on, writes author and expert Michelle Martin on her blog.

She further writes that Instagram references the power of user’s post in their Community Guidelines: “Overstepping these boundaries may result in deleted content, disabled accounts, or other restrictions.”

It is to be noted that moderation and legal compliance are very different from what users report an Instagram shadowban. Instagram tells you directly if you’ve run afoul of copyright or other specific laws or policies.

Martin explains ways one can avoid getting shadow banned on Instagram. One major method is to avoid using banned hashtags.

A banned hashtag means Instagram has deemed it problematic and decided to hide or limit content that uses it from search and other areas.

“Periodically check your usual hashtags to ensure they haven’t been banned. If so, remove them from recent posts to avoid potentially damaging your reach, or worse, becoming shadowbanned,” writes Martin.

The way to check whether the hashtag is banned is to see the message below on the hashtag page.

“It’s not only the obviously inappropriate ones to watch out for. It is important to regularly check your tags,” she added.

Another way to not get shadow banned is to use a content warning for sensitive topics.

If one is sharing or talking about a news story or violent event, Instagram can mistakenly think you’re promoting violence, which goes against guidelines. However, they do make exceptions as long as your purpose is to raise awareness and benefit the community.

“To be on the safe side, Instagram suggests blocking or blurring violent or sensitive images, and including a warning in your graphic and text. Also be sure to state your position on the issue clearly, so that Instagram doesn’t think you are pro-violence. If seeing the original image is important to raise awareness, you can link to an external site with the full news story,” Martin further shared.

Experts also suggest using “wacky ways” to not get banned from social media applications like Facebook. “An interesting example for this is that a lot of times activists use inverted I in order to write kill. This way the algorithm will not be able to catch the word kill. You need to find innovative ways to not get banned and share important information as well,” a data activist told The Citizen.

Experts further say that the way to not get shadow banned or suspended is to play by the rules. But most of the time even that does not work.

Twitter’s terms of service and guidelines instruct users to post valuable, harmless content. Breaching this results in temporary or permanent account suspension.

On Twitter, there are three primary reasons the platform ceases accounts: a user has broken the rules, the app has noted a security issue with an account or a profile is fake.

Experts have said that Twitter automatically suspends an account if the Tweets are abusive. The app’s regulations define dangerous behavior as the promotion of violence, terrorism or illegal goods.

Twitter’s terms of service and guidelines also prohibit hateful conduct, sexual misconduct, violent attacks and gory images. However, Twitter allows users to post some sensitive media, usually when it’s newsworthy and bears a content warning.

And while there are ways to revive your account if the user’s account has been suspended, in India many users have seen their accounts being permanently suspended.

Experts believe the way we use social media is changing ever since Musk has taken over Twitter.

From paid verification to prohibition of sharing pictures of videos without their permission have indicated that app players are prepared to permanently ban users who violate the new rule.

Although Twitter already has bans in place for the publishing of private information, as they do for sharing private intimate images, the new policy will now cover images and video content of people in regular settings too. This means that anyone can report images or video content of themselves that have been published on Twitter without permission so that they can be taken down.

Critics feel that the change in the policy has made many communities like the trans community more vulnerable to hate comments.

The social media platform had prohibited the targeted misgendering of transgender people since 2018. However, online users recently noticed that the sentence had been plucked from Twitter’s section, while all other descriptions of policy violations remained intact.

“Twitter’s hateful conduct policy protected trans people from targeted misgendering and deadnaming for close to five years, and now they mysteriously removed it without a word,” GLAAD President and CEO Sarah Kate Ellis said in a statement. “This is unacceptable in any climate, and doubly unacceptable when you look at the barrage of disinformation and hate about trans people from right wing media personalities, politicians, and the extremists they bolster.”

Use of social media is imperative, but there are many forces in play at the moment, which are changing the way we use these apps. Twitter is a major example of that. The change in power dynamics need to be acknowledged for people to understand how they can raise their voices without getting their freedom of speech snatched in these changing times.