Nearly all online platforms have terms of service that dictate what users are or are not allowed to do with their accounts. Users who break those rules risk having the functionality of their accounts restricted, or even the accounts temporarily blocked or permanently shut down.
Unfortunately, some try to ignore these punishments and get back on a platform to continue the behavior that resulted in them being disciplined. This is known as ban evasion.
While these users’ behavior may not always qualify as criminal, managing how users’ engage with and act on a platform is extremely important for ensuring safety and instilling the proper culture. Unfortunately, banning individuals is a common component of any Trust and Safety program, and it’s essential for controlling the behavior on - and atmosphere of - your platform.
So what is ban evasion, and why do people attempt it? What are some different methods people use to try and evade bans? And what are popular online platforms doing to prevent ban evasion?
Keep reading to learn more.
Ban evasion is an attempt by an individual to circumvent disciplinary restrictions placed on an online account. Someone attempting to do this may create a new account with similar ID credentials, use a previously-created account to continue the purpose of the banned account, or take over someone else’s account.
The outcome of ban evasion is that users who were restricted or deactivated on a platform for violating its policies can return and continue their abusive behavior. This can result in an unsafe platform where customers can repeatedly face harassment, spam, cheating (in games), and even fraudulent activity or account takeovers.
There are generally two reasons why someone would want to evade a ban on their online account. On one hand, they may believe their activities did not warrant disciplinary action against their account, and so the ban is unjust. Many websites have appeal processes allowing users to challenge a ban legitimately.
On the other hand, they may know full well that the activity that got their account banned was not allowed. They may attempt to evade a ban as a challenge, or because they consider abusive behavior fun and want to continue it.
They may also wish to continue abusive behavior as it was giving them some sort of material benefit, like allowing them to cheat at an online game or to defraud customers on eCommerce sites.
In rare cases, civil charges for ban evasion can be upgraded to criminal ones. This may happen if it’s determined that the purpose of evading the ban was to commit acts classified as criminal, such as by the Computer Fraud and Abuse Act.
It criminalizes exceeding authorized access to a computer (i.e. ban evasion) for the purposes of stealing or revealing private information, or of conducting fraudulent activities that result in material gain.
Banned users typically attempt to evade bans in one of three ways:
Some platforms may use ID credentials such as email addresses, browser cookies, IP addresses, and unique device signatures to detect and block a banned user’s attempts to create or repurpose accounts. Many platforms also consider an active user allowing a banned user to utilize or appear on their account to be ban evasion as well.
Here’s how several popular online platforms handle banning and ban evasion.
Twitch is an interactive live video streaming platform. It is mostly used for broadcasting video game playthroughs or tournaments. However, it also features broadcasts of music, sports, creative processes, and other forms of entertainment.
Users on Twitch can be banned for:
A Twitch user may attempt to evade a ban by creating a new account to avoid a previous account’s suspension. They may also get another user to host them on that user’s channel or replay their content; these actions may or may not involve an account takeover.
Reddit is a social network where users share news stories, questions, discussion topics, and other content on broad topic forums called “subreddits.” Other users are then allowed to respond to content and other messages about that content, as well as vote on whether a piece of content or a message is positive or negative.
Improper conduct by a user will usually result in them being banned from the subreddit on which the conduct happened, but not necessarily the entire website. However, further improper conduct – including ban evasion – may result in a user being permanently banned from all of Reddit.
Banworthy conduct on Reddit includes:
A Reddit user may attempt to circumvent a ban by using an alternate account to continue participating in a subreddit they were banned from.
Creating or repurposing a subreddit to continue the objectives of one that was shut down for persistent banworthy behavior is also considered ban evasion on Reddit.
So how does Reddit detect ban evasion? Reddit has a tool called AutoModerator – along with similar community-generated tools – that can be configured to detect and block content and users that violate Reddit’s rules.
Subreddit moderators can also report ban evasion on Reddit to site administrators. Attempting to reconstitute a banned subreddit by creating a new one or repurposing an existing one is a ban evasion offense that is handled directly by Reddit’s administrators, and does not require a moderator report.
Discord is a voice, video, and text chat application. It comprises mainly private, invite-only groups of friends, families, and communities. However, it also features a diverse set of open communities where anyone can discuss particular topics – mainly video games.
The moderator of a Discord server, or Discord administrators, may ban a user for:
To get around a ban, a Discord user may attempt to create a new account or repurpose an existing account. However, Discord can detect and block accounts controlled by banned users by tying their usernames to email and IP addresses.
YouTube is a video-sharing website where people can watch videos uploaded by others, as well as upload and share their own videos. Users can also like/dislike, comment on, and share links to the videos they watch.
Users of YouTube can be banned for:
Users banned from YouTube may appeal their channel or account suspensions if they feel these were unjustified. They may also try creating another channel or account with different credentials but a similar purpose, or repurposing an existing channel to replace a banned one. If they are caught attempting the latter methods of ban evasion on YouTube, however, they may be permanently banned.
Twitter is a social networking website where people can send messages, images, or videos in 280-character-long posts called “tweets.” These posts can either be shared publicly or privately sent to other users. Users also have the ability to “like” posts or to “retweet” them (i.e. repost them on their own account).
Twitter may ban a user for:
If a Twitter user is banned, they may attempt to evade the ban by creating a new account or repurposing an already-existing account that they control. They may also operate another user’s account, either with the account owner’s permission or by forcibly taking over the account.
Twitter considers these actions as ban evasion if they are intended to replace suspended accounts. This includes representing a banned user’s identity, persona, or brand, even if the account has a different purpose than the banned account it’s based on. There are some exceptions, however, for parody, commentary, and fan accounts.
Instructions for how to report ban evasion on Twitter can be found here.
Mitigating ban evasion is an important part of an online platform’s Trust and Safety program. It prevents bad actors from returning to the platform to continue abusive behavior, which may include stealing information from – or even defrauding – other users.
The ability to keep these people permanently off the platform helps to assure good-faith users that their money, ID credentials, and personal dignity will be protected while using the platform.
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