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Why Instagram isn't the future of news

Opinion

Published by:

5 August 2019

Author: Holly Friend

Image: Instagram Stories

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They might be labelled the most woke generation yet, but the Instagram accounts of Generation Z users tell a very different story.

Have you heard of flop accounts? The internet is scattered with articles on the unlikely rise of these peer-to-peer networks for news-hungry teenagers, who are taking to Instagram armed with screenshots of controversial tweets and viral memes. These accounts go beyond the irony of finstas or the Instagram egg – they are catalysts for larger discussions about gun control, LGBT+ rights, and immigration, transforming Instagram’s comments streams into something closer to a Generation Z TED Talk.

The hype around flop accounts can be traced back to The Atlantic’s 2018 article Teens are Debating the News on Instagram, written by internet culture reporter Taylor Lorenz. In this piece, Lorenz defines the term 'flop' as 'a fail'. ‘A flop could be a famous YouTuber saying something racist, someone being rude or awful in person, a homophobic comment, or anything that the teen who posted it deems wrong or unacceptable,’ she writes. Certainly, this way of using a platform normally associated with superficiality and selfies appears in line with the moral, left-leaning values that most young Westerners demonstrate – some 61% of Americans aged between 18 and 24 have a positive reaction to the world 'socialism', for example.

'Flop accounts, typically justified under the guise of ‘just for laughs’ by teens and journalists alike, are largely unguarded, meaning they have become hubs for fake news, bullying and even hate speech'

But Instagram can be inherently toxic – something demonstrated by the disturbing rise in QAnon accounts run by Generation Z individuals, through which they share bitesize, often right-wing conspiracy theories. While flop accounts are typically justified under the guise of ‘just for laughs’ by teens and journalists alike, they may be just as bad. After all, they are largely unguarded, meaning that over time they have become hives of fake news, bullying and even hate speech.

The darker side of flop accounts was explored in a piece by Sarah Manavis for the New Statesman, in which she notes the culture of such mockery on Instagram is so ubiquitous that it's causing teenagers to scale back their once unashamed expression of identity online. ‘People are afraid to actually express themselves and how they truly feel because they’re afraid to get posted on a flop account and get bullied,’ explains Alex, an 18-year-old student. ‘I’ve seen people make fun of children for their appearance, for liking anime, for drawing art they think is bad.’

Flop accounts
'While many are using Instagram to truly fight for what they believe in, we must remember that Generation Z are not cookie-cutter activists'

If this phenomena has an element of familiarity, perhaps it is reminiscent of the early days of LadBible and Unilad, before the platforms matured. Cyber-bullying may be as old as the internet, but the issue has been exacerbated by the visual nature of Instagram.

'The culture of mockery on Instagram is so ubiquitous that it’s causing teenagers to scale back their once unashamed expression of identity online'

With peer-to-peer newsrooms failing young people, then, where should they turn for news and insights that are reliable and rooted in facts? There may a distinct lack of Generation Z media channels reporting the news in their language – memes, TikTok videos, an irreverent tone-of-voice – but Lorenz believes they can just as easily open a newspaper or log onto a reputable publication, undoubtedly equipped with its own Instagram feed and dedicated social media team. ‘The Atlantic, The New York Times, The Washington Post and many other legacy brands already provide incredibly reliable journalism,’ she tells LS:N Global.

While many friendly, progressive, and ultimately safe communities do exist for young internet users – and many are using Instagram to truly fight for what they believe in – we must remember that Generation Z are not cookie-cutter activists driven by socialist ideals. Many are vulnerable and impressionable, and media brands should do what they can to help provide them with reliable, neutral news sources and accessible forms of cultural education.

For more on how to re-embed resilience among a society that is divided by media, read our macrotrend Resilience Culture.

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