StumbleUpon’s Stumbling PR: Banning Loyal Users


Update for SU Visitors: Uhm, guys, in case that you live under the strange idea that we are using SU to drive traffic to this page, I’d like to make a small side note: if this domain gets banned from SU altogether it wouldn’t matter. SU is no longer what it was in the past and in my opinion it should not be used to “drive traffic” anyway. It should be used, as it was intended, to discover interesting pages and to share useful information. SU has some tech. problems and that’s a FACT. If these affect the users then SU should come with an official statement. If they decide to keep quiet articles like these will still follow, and I will not be the one to write them.

Update (twenty minutes after publishing): according to SU staff (but still waiting a confirmation from RJJ) – the main actor of this review is now an active SU user again.

StumbleUpon is one of the most popular social networks of Web 2.0, and until recently also one of the most enjoyable. But things change, empires fall, social networks degrade… StumbleUpon is no exception to the rule. Sure thing, the company tries to keep up the quality standards, but in the process – instead of helping users enjoy a positive experience – they just stumble, and fumble, and tumble, and rumble, and grumble – ultimately to their own detriment.

You will probably not find too many articles that criticize this network: nobody wants to piss-off a great source of traffic. But I no longer care: any network that bans loyal users is no friend of mine.

The average user at Stumble has less than 100 friends on the site, not so many discoveries, double the favorites, and even fewer reviews.

So, let’s define “loyal users” shall we?

A loyal user is a brand evangelist:
someone who lives and breathes the brand, often becoming its emissary.

Someone like the recently “ghost banned” (I will define “ghost banned” a little bit later) Rjj, who has over 1500 subscribers, more than 12K favorites and about 8000 reviews (and more than half of these are his own discoveries). Rjj was once a “top stumbler,” but today he is “ghost banned.” SU offered no explanation, other than that his account is “under review” – for the second time, I might add!


This man basically contributed to the SU database with over 4000 pages, and I can tell you from my own experience that at least half of these meet all possible quality standards SU can ever think of. Rob is one of those rare people who actually cares about what you like: he always shares interesting pages, and never votes for pages he dislikes – not even when you beg! For example, I have a thing for LED powered gadgets, and some of the most interesting pages I’ve ever seen were sent to me by Rjj via the SU toolbar.

In the meanwhile, StumbleUpon recently made some updates to its SU toolbar (for Firefox) that officially enable any user to block ANY site, except StumbleUpon’s. Talking about transparency and impartiality!!!

stumbleupon site

I wonder what criteria will be used to block sites on the SU network from now on. The same used for blocking a loyal user like Rjj? I can only speculate that Rob has some enemies at SU, people who repeatedly reported him as a “spammer” for sending too much stuff (or maybe those he would not vote for endlessly). Truth be told, Rob does share four or five sites a day via the SU toolbar, but wasn’t this precisely the type of user behavior encouraged by SU?

“To become a Top Stumbler, simply use the toolbar on a regular basis, clicking I-like-it at any page other members would like to stumble upon.”

Speaking of people who should be banned, I could make at any time a list of 100 such candidates on demand. In the meanwhile, this article may shed some light on what should be considered bad user behavior.

I have a “friend” who spams me with five shares every day, all links to the same lapis lazuli site, but is he experiencing any trouble from SU? No! And he probably never will.

So the question is, “what kind of a social network decides to penalize its brand evangelists?” Digg? Reddit? Delicious? Mixx? Propeller? MyBlogLog (are they still around – LMAO)? MySpace? Twitter? Facepoop, uhm… Facebook? NO! It’s StumbleUpon, the most praised network of them all. I mean, come on, all other networks have had their share of negative press. StumbleUpon has always managed to keep a low profile as far as bad publicity is concerned. But enough is enough. While I understand why a new and improved toolbar is necessary, I still have some questions:

What is the criterion to decide which sites are being blocked? Some random “user reports” – when these user reports could lead to a situation like Rob’s?

Why is there no option to block StumbleUpon’s own domain? Who’s there to decide that any other site deserves the boot, when SU’s own blog is the subject of negative reviews every now and then?

stumbleupon site

Is StumbleUpon the web’s new demagogue and censor? When you block a domain, from any social network, you automatically apply censorship to every scrap of content on that domain.

How about the users? Is it respectful to all the users who benefit from content supplied by people like Rjj to categorically block any further great content, and otherwise eliminate the possibility of a “top stumbler” sharing valuable content ever again?

Is it fair to be “ghost banned” by a network you use faithfully every day of your life?

Now let me define “ghost banned” for you. According to this article, shared by some SU employees I will not name, this is what “ghost banned” is all about:

You can thumb up, thumb down, discover… pretty much anything a regular user can do. The only thing is your efforts don’t count. You can tell if you’re “ghost banned” by discovering a page, opening up a different browser, and visiting the review page of the site you just discovered. If it says “Discovered by someone” and not you, you’re a ghost. No word yet on how to reverse this.

Enough about StumbleUpon today. Personally, I expect an explanation from this once splendid network. In the meanwhile, dear SU, respecting your loyal users is vital to continue as a successful network. Lose this, and you are most likely to follow the Netscape path: you’ll need serious re-branding, under a different name, to come clean!

Stumbleupon cartoon.

Author disclosure: I am a StumbleUpon fan, a very active user and very passionate about the way this tool enables communication with people sharing the same interests.


  1. SayWhat97 says

    This just happened to me unfortunately, I noticed that RJJ’s account is no longer under review, does that mean that it’s only temporary or does it depend?
    It’s kinda my own fault though because I have been sharing a lot of pages from the same website but never realized that I was spamming.

  2. deepa says

    This thing happened with me few days ago. But now fixed. Bad user doing wrong thing sometime actual user also suffer to them. That is very bad.

  3. Meena says

    This is happening to my profile as well..despite of discovering new articles ..I can never see myself as a discover stumbler… Is it the end of my profile?? :0

  4. says

    I recently read a story about how Su users who uses the toolbar and get Su from mutual friends become non existing SU users.. There profile does not matter anything..
    Everything is changing. Digg/Twitter and more or born baby Reddit…. Stumbleupon introduced and few toolbar updates…but is it enough to take care of everything… It’s time to wake up and make some amendment.. A clear Guideline , a clear algo….!!!!
    Kick Spammer and rebuild the old Love StumbleUpon

  5. Levi Novey says

    Thanks for speaking up, Mihaela. I’ve been on vacation for the past few weeks so I have not been stumbling much and haven’t noticed the ghost banning. I without hesitation can also testify that many of the people like Gerri and Rob are model Stumbleupon friends. They always send interesting pages and it’s not something they do constantly.

    What the heck?

    Hopefully the issue gets resolved and a more thorough explanation/apology is issued to those who were affected who were not abusing SU.

  6. says

    I’m pretty sure I have just been ghost banned and I know another guy who has as well, I do promote my own stuff sometimes, but I chop things up by promoting stuff for other people as well, and I use it to find stuff, have done for over 2 years, if you check my blog and reviews you will probably think it looks pretty decent, most users give me the thumbs up.

    Do you know how long it generally takes for a ghost ban to go away? I got banned for submitting my blog once and that went away fairly quickly.

    It really does suck, because I have like 300 subscribers there and I know my account can send about 100 clicks minimum but now it doesn’t, it’s like I have just had a load of RSS readers that I earned taken away from me or a twitter account or something.

    Twitter don’t go around taking peoples followers from them do they?

    They are way to uptight about the whole self promotion thing, all the best power social media users have vested interests in their respective sites, that’s the way it is. Clearly in this instance a guy got burned who definitely shouldn’t have because they are being total ball breakers.

    They say you are in fact allowed to submit your own stuff, they give you a god dam share feature and then they penalise you for using it, BS people! BS!

  7. Mihaela Lica says

    Ma, what can I do? I don’t know who still sends this to you, and all I can do to put an end is to close comments here – but so far I see no reason to it.

    FYI, Rob’s problem is not solved though, and this is a problem affecting other users too. I’ve never had a problem with SU, and if I ever do I’ll simply close my account, but not before I tell the world why – as I did with MyBlogLog.

  8. ma says

    I think it is time to put this issue away. SU is working on the problem and Rob is just fine with how it is being managed. Let’s not keep the flame going. It serves no one anymore. All problems have solutions and a solution is being worked on by SU.

    What more can we ask? I’m tired of this getting sent to me. It’s time to stop beating a dead horse. The horse is dead.

  9. Thierry Andriamirado says

    When one is ‘ghost banned’, does his stumble sent to other social medias as usual or not? (FriendFeed, Twitter..)

  10. says

    Seems that StumbleUpon PR is more complicated that other social bookmarking sites? get complicated.. and then become stumble

  11. Mihaela Lica says

    Hi Trina, thank you for your input. I heard about the Facebook images problem and I changed my personal preferences in my FB account. I was never an enthusiastic user anyway. SU is disappointing because this was actually the only network I really believed in. They never failed before – actually they used to have the best customer support in the industry.

  12. Trina L. Grant says

    SU should have kept their rating system pure. When they started allowing ad sites in, it totally wiped out their credibility with me. I want to see things my network really likes, not what some scam artist with a few bucks paid SU to show me. This is not the first article I have seen about this. I’m afraid this may prove to be a very bad move on the part of StumbleUpon. Users don’t like sneaky tactics…I for one (probably the only one) stopped using Facebook when they changed their TOS to allow them to use users pics on ads without their permission. I put pics of my kids on my personal pages, and I would have hit the roof if I had seen my kids on some ad.

  13. bennie k says

    SU jumped the shark pretty early on, IMO. All the spam turned me off a year or more ago.

  14. John says

    At the moment, I stumble for my own fun and have about 600 favourites. i find very few new pages that are worthwhile sharing while normally browsing. I can usually wrap the offered stumbled pages each evening, but I assume that is because my topics of interest are low (Linux, Astromomy, Cartoons, Crafts).
    Is there a rival offering?
    Is there a way to sort the favourites?
    Is there a way to change the language so it says favourites and not favorites? :-)

  15. says

    Contrary to what I said here earlier today it seems that the troubles with my account are still not entirely resolved …..
    When I checkout my discoveries in a browser where I’m not logged in and go to these discoveries, e.g. I’m again not marked as the discoverer and also my review is disappeared. I’ll report this to SU-support again

  16. Deborah says

    Rjj has long been one of my favorite SU friends. He shares several pages with me daily for which he knows I take interest in, such as science, design, and bizarre articles, most of which I would never have seen, had he not shared his discoveries with me.

    Most of his shares with me are from highly respected sites, and I cannot recall receiving spammy pages from him. Neither does he self-promote his own sites. He has always been a very friendly social media friend, conversing with me via the toolbar. What more can you ask for from a loyal user?

    Inevitably, users are going to become friends with other users who they share more common interests with than than others, and therefore share pages more so with them than others, and in effect, developing actual online friendships.

    To see people such as Rob getting banned makes me paranoid to even thumb up a quality page that I enjoy which friends have shared with me, for fear of getting banned myself. I know that I am not alone in this in any respect.

    SU’s TOS is certainly clear, but it is not defined clearly as to what constitutes abuse in regards to this IMO. At what point is thumbing up a page from a site which you enjoy considered promotion and against TOS? Once a week? Once a month, twice a month?

    I had actually noticed that Rob’s shares with me were not showing who had discovered the pages (namely him), and neither were his reviews appearing on the review pages. I’ve been seeing this increasingly with shares I receive from others as well. It makes one wonder how far-reaching this ‘ghost banning’ is. Again, making me further paranoid to thumb pages up which I enjoy for fear of getting banned. Isn’t that the whole principal of the SU experience is, to thumb pages up which you think are interesting or enjoyable?

    And what’s to be said of transparency. I really don’t understand the purpose of ghost banning. Eventually, those who are will find out that they have been anyway. Why not simply ban them and be done with it? This simply creates even more paranoia, and animosity towards a social site amongst even the most respected users.

  17. Mihaela Lica says

    @Mallard – that’s good to know. Somehow I had the impression that the “block site” feature can affect the whole system. Since it is a new implementation I hope it is not buggy. Also… the question: how do I unblock a site if I want to comes to mind…

  18. Mihaela Lica says

    Thank you for stopping by, Rob. What bothers me is SU’s lack of respect and the lies their officials seem to propagate with other members!

  19. says

    Yesterday was as happy day for me: the (short) suspension of my SU account was removed, the ghost banning was gone and moreover I found this great article, where my case was discussed extensively.
    But let me tell what happened.
    A few week ago I noted that my Top Stumbler status suddenly disappearaed. Morever some of my friends were asking me why on my shares my reviews did not appear and why I was not mentioned as discoverer of the pages. I did not know about “ghost banning” at that time. After asking SU support I got an answer about their Top Stumblers selection, but not about the “ghost banning”
    When finally in the Social News Watch article “How to Not get Banned on StumbleUpon” I read more about ghost banning I contacted SU support again and I was highly surprised that instead of getting and answer I got an email with the message
    “Your StumbleUpon account privileges have been restricted and the account is under review.” So at that moment I was even completely banned …
    After asking what was wrong I fortunately got the anwer that my account has been put under review just for a few minutes to do some testing and that it was restored already. I told them that in that case the notification of suspension has been at least a bit confusing, but I’m happy now to be back and even no longer ghost banned.
    Remains the question: what caused the ghost ban. The present article and the discussion in the comments give already some indication and I hope to find out more about it too.
    I’m very grateful however for the support and all the kind words I received here and in SU from my online friends

  20. Alisa says

    Oh no, I just can’t believe this! I don’t understand on what basis SU is baaning Stumblers like Rob. Because as par I know him he is a great stumbler and also a very good advisor for the new-comers like me. He has made his page full of his personal taste and suggested me to do so also. Just to help your friends, he has told, don’t thumbs up the aticles that you don’t like. It’s really a shoking news. Really don’t know, what could be done next???

  21. Robin Bal says

    I think I could take some of the blame here, mind you I am NOT a spammer by any stretch of imagination. I was the kind of guy who stumbles first and read the post later and sharing my new posts was just about the right thing to do, so I thought. Aww man its not really fair that guys like Rjj get banned. In future my message to my friends is that I am not stumbling anything or everything, I am not even gonna send shares and ask for stumbles. If an article is good enough someone is gonna stumble it anyway. Thanks for this post, I am sure to be back, it’s an eye opener and Stumbleupon is my favorite scial media site.

  22. Mallard says

    The “block this site” feature of SU is local-only. If you get a lot of stumbles from a particular site (such as LoLCats while stumbling cats) it is possible to say “block this site” for that particular site and not get any more from that site (such as saying “block this site” to icanhascheeseburger to avoid a lot of LoLCats while stumbling cats).

  23. ma says

    I always knew that Mom loved you the bestest, Mig. What am I doing wrong? How come I don’t see the “Green Man”? Drats! I don’t even see the stumbler Ambeeten in my toolbar.

    Inquiring minds wanna know, yanno?

  24. Mihaela Lica says

    Gerald, Rob appears to be back, but other users are still banned – some power users too. Still hoping SU will address this soon. They’ll probably call this article a “rumor” – but we all know the truth.

  25. says

    I personally find this both upsetting and disheartening at the same time. One of the first things RJJ said to me when we became friends was. “don’t expect me to thumb up something just because we are friends” Now isn’t this the exactly the type of user SU wants on their platform? While I understand the need for social media websites to be able to ban certain users that abuse their platform, this is clearly a big, fat, HUGE FAIL on StumbleUpons part. I have always held SU to a higher standard than sites like Reddit, Digg and so on, but if they are banning some of their most loyal and highly contributing users to their site then something is terribly amiss. Please StumbleUpon don’t go on such a crazy witch hunt that you start banning the very people that help SU be the greatest social media platform on the Web. OK I could go on but I guess I won’t . That’s all I have to say about that right now.

    • Phil Butler says

      Gerald, Thanks for commenting. I just wanted to interject here for everyone. Mig looked for the little green man so long that she can no longer focus, but the good news is she actually found him on the right side of the tool bar. He does not dance like a leprechaun or anything, as we suspected, but he does appear out of nowhere when you find a sponsored page. I will now go and put cucumbers on her eyes so that she can write about Twitter’s “little red bird”, which will appear when someone pays for a Twit. I just hope the little sucker does not appear on any of my Twits inadvertently, cuz I will never pay for one. The sage of social will continue tomorrow. :)


  26. maureenlynne says

    all those cute puppy and kitty images i sent to my daughter while she’s away at college will be my undoing…how does SU determine whose ban worthy and whose allowed to continue…do they let you know you’ve been ghosted or banned? it sounds like people have to figure it out themselves….this is sorta sneaky on SU’s part…yea, i’d like to see some clearer “rules”….

    • Mihaela Lica says

      Me too Ma and Maureen! I am sad to see this phenomenon, and as I said, although I NEVER had problems with SU, I hate standing, watching and doing nothing about what I believe to be not entirely fair-play from my favorite social network. I was a SU advocate for so long already – but an advocate should not be a propagandist. Now they made a mistake, and as a friend I have to say so. A personal contact with them would just go unnoticed. Trust me, I tried before. There is one SU customer support person who is always kind and replies, but whenever I had a serious issue that did not serve SU’s interests in the first place, all my efforts to get an answer were in vain.

  27. ma says

    This is the best address on PR stuff I’ve read in ages, Mig. Good on you for addressing this, uhm, matter. [BS] I had noticed that many of my contacts had stopped communicating like we used to communicate. SU used to be fun but it appears that monetary greed has gotten in the way, albeit SU staff or no SU staff shortage.

    Welcome back, rjj! Rob is one of my mutuals with whom I have enjoyed many laughs, chits, and giggles with since we first hooked up together on SU. I’ve yet to meet a person of Rob’s caliper since although I enjoy every person I’m connected with presently. I’ve also had the displeasure of those who have demonstrated their own self-interests with the inclusion of even having been sent to sites that have known trojans. They are who I’d label as being cheesy, greasy, and sleezy SU scammers and none of that applies to our Rob.

    Again, thank you for addressing this matter albeit one that reeks of online B.S.

  28. maureenlynne says

    do we need to watch how many page shares we send? my daughter is also on SU and i send her a lot of shares….do i need to be concerned? i know of several people who got banned and now i’m worried that i can’t page share with my daughter (who btw, is attending MSU-go state)
    this has become a great way for she and i to keep in touch and send shares and even homework related posts…..what gives SU?

  29. says

    Well, Barry told us one thing in an e-mail and is now saying something completely different on the SU help forum. I would at least appreciate the decency of a straight answer. Ghost banning is real, it’s widespread, it’s not a glitch and it’s not a myth. Someone at SU should have the testicular fortitude to tell the truth.

  30. Mihaela Lica says

    @Gerri – nah, that was clear, gal. I just don’t want to see the “little people” hurt. They are just doing their jobs. Let’s see what the big guys have to say, if anything. And if they don’t… well… “thank you for the fuel!”

  31. Mihaela Lica says

    Harry, thank you for the feedback.

    You know, this is really strange. I was planning a post about how SU is better than Twitter, but this issue has cast a negative shade on everything!

  32. Hugh says

    Great post, Mihaela. Really sorry to see SU doing this to themselves. Hopefully they’ll come clean quickly, and rectify the situation, or at the very least make a more clear statement of policy as to what constitutes grounds for ghost banning beyond the current vagaries. It’s real, as I can attest to, and I have also received similar communications on the matter.

  33. Mihaela Lica says

    PR? ;) Too bad you published the link to your SU support friend. I hope he doesn’t get in trouble because of this. I will not disclose my source unless forced to, but I do keep a record of all messages. (with screenshots).

  34. says


    If there’s one thing I really hate, it’s a liar. The person from SU who told you it’s a rumor is lying.

    Barry ( wrote to me and told me my stumble activity was not diverse enough (although I felt that I was rather diverse) and that’s the reason I’m a ghost. He sent the exact same email to a friend of mine. SO some SU helpers admit it, while others lie about it? What’s that all about?


  35. Phil Butler says

    We see so many things like this, one person is banned or obscured, while others do whatever they want. Sort of a mirror of the way life works. As for Rob, he never deserved to be under any scrutiny at all. What a superb person.

    Like Mig, I can list a hundred spammers in about 10 minutes, well 30, I type badly. Heck, I have spammed people more than Rob (well begged is a better term). I know a few more who are ghost banned too. Social networks need to realize that without people like Rob, they have nothing but bandwidth costs. Wise up SU.


  36. Matt Keegan says

    Ghost banning, if not intentional, must be a technical problem but I have my doubts. I fear that SU is getting over run by Reddit creeps and is no longer presenting the value that it once did.

    I’ve thumbed up over 38,000 pages and have written more than 5550 reviews, some quite detailed. I recently got rid of a few spammy subscribers and I’m very picky as to who I will follow.

    Sniff*Sniff — I’ll have to take my clicking fingers and wandering mouse to some other social media site I guess. ;-)

  37. Mihaela Lica says

    OK, they just told me that the “ghost ban” is a rumor. I replied that if many people repeatedly report that they cannot see themselves as the ones who discovered an article, the rumors must be true. I also said that I will not fall for this one. I am ready to correct everything else.

    If the “ghost ban” is actually a bug or a tech issue, this is not my problem!

  38. Matt Keegan says

    Looks as if someone from SU is reading this blog, Mig. Still, I’m a bit disappointed — I rarely share with anyone any more, prefering to find good stuff and posting it for all to read. I do include some of my own stuff, but lately I’ve been concentrating on car related news because SU will even send to me a note from time to time reminding me to stumble car sites.

    No wonder I haven’t heard from them lately; I’ve been quietly banned. Oh well!

  39. Mihaela Lica says

    Gerri, apparently they bothered to answer to Rjj – so maybe you will also have some luck (someone from SU sent me this information via SU toolbar). As far as I am concerned, I never had problems with SU, so I cannot complain. However, I cannot simply stay and watch when people like Rob and Matt (both SU friends) are mistreated. Yes, you are right, this is Reddit softban.

  40. says

    Mihaela, thank you for publishing this article. I’d like to get a reasonable explanation from SU, but there is no reasonable explanation for this sneaky Reddit-like softban of loyal users. I’ve contacted them and posted on the help forum and they’re obviously not interested in having me continue as an avid SU user.

  41. says

    Great article Miahela…thanks for the education on ghost banned and for bringing forth an issue that can affect us all stumblers. It looks like Rjj will be “un-ghost banned”. This is what media and journalism is should be all about.

  42. Mihaela Lica says

    @The Dude Dean – you mean “full of BS?”

    @Matt Keegan – wait and see what they are doing with their new thumbs down feature. The good news is that there will always be another network to turn to when our favorites disappoint.

  43. Matt Keegan says

    I’ve been ghost banned too, though SU still sends stumble love my way. I only discovered this when a faithful SU friend said to me that my photo wasn’t showing up even after I discovered and stumbled a page.

    Kind of takes the wind out of your sail when you’re trying to do your part to add value to the internet. I guess I’ll be sending up more tweets than stumbles until Twitter starts acting goofy too!

  44. Mihaela Lica says

    Hi Lex, thanks for the comment. There is an update from SU, btw. Apparently he is no longer banned. However, I doubt he is a singular case.

  45. Lex G says

    Hey I know that guy (Rob) .. he was (is) on my list too…

    It can’t be the spamming, cause some people spam me continuously through the SU toolbar and they are still here … Or maybe in Rob’s case it they made it out to be spamming … or who knows what …


  46. Mihaela Lica says

    SU appears to be short on staff, Kristen. They also follow a path I am not entirely enthusiastic about: the shortened URL with toolbar (like digg, reddit, etc) – SU is losing its essence. Period.

  47. Kristen Nicole says

    for social bookmarking sites i’ve noticed there’s a fine line b/w making things easier for users and saving the integrity of providing recommendations to all. but abandoning them all together is not a good look!

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