AUGUST 10, 2019 UPDATE – We’ve now received word from three users who had success getting the action block lifted after having been banned for three weeks. They simply logged out of the app and logged back in (go figure). We reached out to others currently still banned and asked them to try it out, but none of them had similar success. That said, it won’t hurt to give it a shot. Be sure to log out from every device. If that doesn’t work (and don’t be surprised if it doesn’t), keep reading …
AUGUST 7, 2019 UPDATE – OUR THIRD ACTION BLOCK ENDED EARLIER THAN EXPECTED! What did we do differently? Keep scrolling or click the anchor tag to read: The private profile theory.
So you’ve been action blocked on Instagram? Welcome to the club. Stop mashing your index finger into the “Tell us” button, take a deep breath and relax.
We’ve been there, and despite all of the advice out there on the interwebs, there are really only two things you can do to get yourself out of Instagram’s penalty box.
Beware the “fixers”
First things first: Be wary of anyone out there telling you that for a nominal fee they can resolve the issue. They can’t.
Instagram’s action block ban is time-based, and the length of your punishment is based on the severity of your crime. No so-called “Instagram technician” has the power to speed up the process.
These turds take your money, tell you to wait while they “get to work,” the Instagram ban naturally expires when time is up, and then the turd tells you they magically fixed it. Wrong.
Also, don’t bother writing to Instagram about your woes. They don’t care and wouldn’t have the manpower resources to look into it if they did.
Of course, if it makes you feel better to rant, then by all means proceed. Screaming at a brick wall might be equally effective.
I tweeted mean things at Instagram’s founder.
A cathartic if not productive activity.
Just look what you’ve done!
If you’ve been banned from following other accounts, you’ve likely done one of a few things:
1) You followed way too many people too quickly, or
2) you unfollowed too many accounts at once, or
3) evolution has given you super-fast hyper fingers and you’re secretly an X-Men.
The second reason might make you scratch your head. Why would Instagram block you from following others merely for batch unfollowing?
Well, it would honestly be kind of weird if Instagram tried to stop you from unfollowing someone, because let’s face it – sometimes you pick up some real weirdos (I’m looking at you, guy who only takes pictures of people on the toilet).
So the alternative is to block you from following anyone for a while. That’ll learn ya!
(AUGUST 10, 2019 UPDATE: Two of our readers told us today they have been action blocked from unfollowing as well, which we’d never heard of. Has this happened to you too? Let us know in the comments!)
A’ight stop watcha doin’ …
If you were using an app for automated follow/unfollow tasks like us, this activity is probably what landed you in jail. No, you don’t have to delete your apps.
Check your Instagram settings and you’ll see that your automation apps aren’t recognized as linked accounts. What you do have to do is change your ways.
Be mindful of Instagram’s hourly and daily limits and abide by them (there are theories elsewhere on the Internet about these limits, but the last I heard was to keep it under 200 “actions” per day and no more than 20 follow requests in an hour).
Yes, you can still use your apps to find that jerk who unfollowed you even though you had “liked” twenty terrible pictures of his ugly stupid kids.
Sheesh, bitter much?
Seriously, twenty damn posts.
What you can’t do is unfollow several hundred accounts in a few minutes. That’s what we did.
What you did.
I flirted with the long arm of the Instagram Terms of Service and got the book thrown at us. There are also punishments for spammy comments, too many likes, batch rando DMs, copyright violations, rapid follow activity and other suspicious behavior.
… Cuz I’m about to ruin …
The other thing you can do? Wait.
As mentioned above, this is a time-based ban. Some crimes are apparently worse than others, although it’s not entirely clear which particular offense will earn which ban. The Internet is filled with blog post comments about bans being lifted after a few days to upwards of a month.
Our ban lasted three weeks on the dot. And now that you know you’re basically screwed for the next week or three, let’s dive into the anatomy of what happens when your account has been given the smackdown.
… The image and the style that ya used to
Think anyone will get these Humpty Dance references?
Probably not, but I’m having fun.
1. Your follow activity stagnates. This is by design, and it’s pretty painful when tracked in a timeline.
2. You lose followers every day. This is kind of fascinating, really. With the inability to follow others, you not only lose the followers you were going to lose anyway from the whole garbage follow/unfollow tactic, you also lose those who were just fishing for more followers by following you.
Sounds like BS. How is that fascinating?
It points to a serious problem with Instagram. If you’re putting out good content regularly (which I think we were doing a decent job – judge for yourself at https://www.instagram.com/wandering_hikers/ ), you’ve done your best with hash tags and you’re still not gaining followers, it poses the question:
Does anyone out there really care, and is Instagram’s model more broken than ever?
3. Your engagement rate plummets. If you look at Instagram’s JSON data feed for your account, the platform believes you are only as relevant as your twelve most recent posts. Using these last twelve posts, we can calculate our engagement ratio as:
((total likes for last twelve posts + total comments for last twelve posts) / 12) / number of followers
Just look at the pretty chart.
If you’re interested in looking at your own JSON data, replace “wandering_hikers” with your Instagram handle in the link below:
(If you’d like to learn how to track your Instagram analytics, leave a comment and I’ll consider writing another post about it.)
Lastly, while you wait for the ban to be lifted, don’t feel like you have to stop posting or liking (if you’re lucky and Instagram hasn’t blocked you from doing that as well).
After all, the platform is supposed to be fun, and someone out there might actually genuinely like your terrible photos of ugly stupid kids.
Move on already, man!
Twenty photos. Twenty!
Oops, I did it again
One week after the ban was lifted, our account began to recover from a growth perspective. It was interesting to see engagement climbing as well, but that was happening more slowly.
I felt that we were still under the watchful gaze of Instagram at times, however, because some days our hashtag game seemed horribly off.
Kat was also worried about some of my other automated tinkerings running behind the scenes, which eventually got sniffed out by Instagram and earned us the threatening notification below.
Looking at a couple social automation threads, it was apparent this warning sent a few shockwaves, although no one reported that they actually had followers or likes removed that were gained by automation software.
I thought it may be time for me to stop thumbing my nose at Instagram and play by their rules. Botting is hard , they say. Husbanding is hard too, haha.
Still, I thought I’d found something that was starting to work. Instead of automating follows and likes with Socinator (a cheaper Jarvee ripoff with non-existent support as far as I can tell), I used the platform to simply scrape user hashtags.
After that, I’d dump a text file of usernames into the system and set it up to follow and like. It was working, but I got cocky.
You got us blocked again!
Yep, I got us blocked again. This time the penalty was shorter (one week as opposed to three), but we were banned from posting, commenting (even on our own posts), following and liking. That’s cold, Instagram!
So have you learned your lesson?
I guess so. Although I did read an interesting article about writing your own automation software in Python.
Oh for the love of all that is holy.
I may be done with automation software as far as our hiking Instagram account goes, but I do find the process fascinating.
Getting blocked stinks, but it is also a peculiar way to see Instagram’s behind-the-scenes efforts to discourage botting on their platform.
All told, I don’t think we actually gained a single follower using third party software anyway (all we managed to do was grow the accounts of others), and in the end the action blocks cost us at least a few hundred followers.
From my experience, it just wasn’t worth the trouble.
Knowing what I know now, I’m not sure Instagram is worth the trouble either as far as being a platform for content marketing.
I’m not ready to give up just yet, but I think it’s also a sobering reminder of the potential consequences of building an empire on someone else’s property.
The private profile theory
I’m going to get way less scientific and simply throw this out there …
Another user who had been action blocked responded in the comments section of this article about an anomaly he’d noticed: Even though he was blocked from following others, he noticed his “Following” total slowly rising.
He thought he’d been hacked, but after thinking about it for a bit, I realized what was most likely happening.
I think he had sent follow requests to private profiles, which do not count toward your following total until they accept the request.
I hate to tell you this.
You didn’t! Oh, Andrew.
So when I managed to get our account action blocked for the third time, I immediately took screenshots of our profile page. The two below were taken an hour apart, both after our account had been blocked.
So here’s my theory: Instagram notices you’re performing too many actions in an hour or day, which it flags as suspicious behavior and enacts a temporary action block.
But, since you’ve previously sent follow requests to a handful of private accounts, these are now little ticking time bombs.
I think it’s possible that each time a private profile accepts your follow request after you’ve been blocked, it extends the length of your ban. It’s almost as if there is something in Instagram’s code that is trying to defend against what it sees as a hack (you’re still somehow following despite the block?), but in reality it’s fighting against its own algorithm.
Can I be sure about that? Nope. But I haven’t heard a better explanation.
I deserve that.
Instagram is also apparently more protective of private accounts. The platform realizes some of us are trying to grow our accounts, and doing so with public profiles is fair game.
But wouldn’t it make sense for Instagram to try to keep that tactic away from those who really don’t want to be bothered, a.k.a. the private profiles?
The real kicker is that, after a few days, I unfollowed those who weren’t following back, and it turns out that I had several private accounts in there who had accepted my follow request but hadn’t followed back. Hmph!
From now on, I’m going to avoid most private profiles as far as growth hacking goes, and I’d advise others to do the same. There’s something in that combination that is going to get you in trouble.
And yes, that means visiting each profile individually before following. That’s the only place where you can be sure an account is public (although after following on non-profile pages you can tell if the button changes to “followed” or “requested”).
Gone are the days of scrolling through another user’s followers and clicking the little blue follow buttons on the right. That activity is also too fast, and it’s sure to land you in the penalty box eventually.
But I was curious – how many little ticking time bombs did we still have out there? It turns out, there is a way to find out in your account data.
When you find yours, you might be surprised how many pending requests you have.
We had 88.
I wanted to make sure I went in and cancelled all of those requests, because otherwise they’ll just sit there for eternity (and some people think this counts toward your hourly/daily following limit). I learned that you can do this both on a smartphone and a desktop computer, but desktop is going to be way easier.
Here’s what you do:
(AUGUST 10, 2019 UPDATE: Although this worked for us, I’ll admit that by no means is this a proven tactic, and it’s hard to say if it actually had anything to do with lifting our ban or if it was just a fluke. One user tried it with no luck, and two others said their action blocks were made worse after trying it. Of course, we don’t know what else is going on with their accounts, but do with that information what you will.)
Go to Settings (the little gear icon) > Privacy and Security > Account Data > View Account Data > Connections > Current follow requests > View All.
Here’s a short video if that’s easier:
Once you’ve found your pending requests, open a second window in Instagram and begin copying and pasting those usernames one by one into the Instagram search bar.
You need to visit each profile, click where it says “Requested,” and then confirm you want to cancel your request to follow that account (this does not count as mass unfollowing because technically you aren’t following them yet).
Yes, I know, it’s a huge pain and Instagram doesn’t make it easy.
BUT, we did this, and our days-long action block ended early.
And it wasn’t your typical 24/48 hour block, nor was it a week or three weeks.
It was four and a half days. Now THAT is odd. Again, can I say for SURE that it helped lift the block prematurely? Nope.
Again, I totally deserve that.
I had to go into my account a couple times to finish the job, but for some reason there are still about 24 that show up in my pending requests that I simply can’t get rid of no matter what.
So if you don’t think Instagram has any bugs in its code, I present to you Exhibit A (here’s where I’d post the list of accounts I just can’t seem to scrub, but since they’re private profiles that probably isn’t cool).
After the second attempt to remove these pending requests, the action block expired sometime over night. The strange length of the block leads me to think there’s something to this theory, but only the devs at Insta know for sure, and they’re not talking.
Yes, it’s all a conspiracy by the guys with the funny little hats in the funny little cars.
New! The action blocked experience
Feeling left out that all the cool kids are action blocked and you’re not?
With our handy Instagram action blocked video, you can now loop the experience on your phone and your friends will be none the wiser.
What is wrong with you?
It’s a more exciting setup than just “Here, watch a video of what it looks like to be banned from following, commenting and liking on Instagram.
That’s twisted, man.
This video shows what our second action block ban looked like. We were unable to post, comment, like or follow. Well, we actually were able to post, but we weren’t allowed to post a caption along with the image. Thaaaaanks Instagram.