I was having a meal with a friend last year when she took out her phone to show me an Instagram profile. It belonged to a mutual friend of ours and it was his private spam account.
On it, she showed me a screenshot that he had taken of one of my own seemingly innocent Instagram Stories from a few weeks back. It was posted with a lengthy caption criticising me and calling me names. And of course, it was followed by a slew of nasty comments from mutual friends who were taking advantage of the private space he had created in a world where everything is public property.
Unfortunately, this incident is not an isolated one.
In fact, this is the culture we live in today. In this day and age, we learn more about people from their social media profiles then from actual conversations we might have with them. We work hard to perfect our image on social media because we are fully aware that we are being judged on it. Not just by our peers, but also by potential employers, teachers and sometimes even parents.
So it is unsurprising that in this very public world, people are starting to want to carve out a private space for themselves and their closest friends. This is what has led to the rise in private Instagram spam accounts.
You might be wondering what these said spam accounts I'm referring to are.
Spam accounts are separate accounts wherein a person allows themselves to post anything and everything that they want. Things like unglamorous pictures and unflattering videos are usually what you’d find on a spam account. These profiles are usually made private and access to this content is limited to only a specific few people. Spam accounts are largely popular with about 80% of youths having one.
People who have spam accounts usually also have a second public account. These accounts are open to whoever might decide to follow them and the content posted is vastly different. In a public account, you’d usually see photos and videos that are all carefully taken, edited and curated. The account would usually present a very ‘perfect’ image of the person.
This is seemingly quite innocent. I mean, what’s wrong with wanting a private space for just you and your friends to have fun right? However, the problem with duality comes when you look closer at how a spam account is used.
For starters, there is an issue with self-esteem at play here. Why do we feel like we need to have two versions of ourselves in order to be acceptable? While we all do present different versions of ourselves to different people, it is somehow more pronounced when you physically have two accounts for yourself. Each with a vastly different image of yourself. Are we then to believe that our true selves will never be good enough for the majority of our community?
Another problem with this duality is that private spaces open up an avenue for cyberbullying. In a 2014 study by the Singapore Children’s Society and the Institute of Mental Health found through 3,319 students that one in nine adolescents has been a victim of cyberbullying. A large part of that could be attributed to how easy it is to bully someone online now.
Just like my experience with my ex-friend, many people feel that with a private account comes the ability to say whatever you may feel. Falsely believing that a controlled space on the internet frees you of being responsible for what you put up.
Friends also take advantage of this by responding to posts in ways that they never would in a completely public space. I mean, you believe you are amongst friends and that this entitles you to say what you feel.
After all, all you have to do is to remove your name and profile picture, privatise your account and you are anonymous to everyone except the people you allow to follow you.
The problem is, that even in this private space, you are still in public. You are always public. After all, how easy was it for my friend to show me the post and for me to find out about it? You are never not accountable for what you say.
Our social media accounts are tied to who we are as people. What we choose to post and who we allow into that space says a lot about what we value. A spam account does not absolve us of this.
In the end, I am not saying that spam accounts are completely bad. After all, a large majority of millennials do have spam accounts and not all of them use them irresponsibly. However I do feel that we should try to do away with this duality. Focus your efforts on one account and be authentic there. Don’t allow for a private space that could be used for cyber bullying or the devaluing of the self. After all, we are all imperfect and quirky in our own ways. We should celebrate it.