Spam vs Main – The Latest Youth Instagram Trend

Within our investigations we have seen a huge increase in the number of Instagram accounts operated by younger people, 'spam' accounts are a part of this - so what are they??

A distinctive trend in Instagram use is that young people increasingly have more than one account. The under-25s will often have a real Instagram account – referred to as their “main”, where they will selectively share an edited insight of their activities, as well as a secondary account – commonly referred to as their “spam” or “’back-up” accounts. The latter is created specifically for the purpose of sharing personal, raw or unpolished images or videos with an exclusive group of people.

The rise of spam accounts began in 2017 when for the first time, Instagram allowed users to create and switch between multiple accounts. Since this date, NetWatch have seen an influx in the number of Instagram accounts utilised by young people as this trend has become the norm for many. My research into the matter found that Instagram is the favoured social media platform for under-25s, some even choosing to access Instagram between 10 and 30 times on a given day. They check likes, comments, share and create stories, view their friends’ latest posts, and follow their interests.

When speaking with my younger sibling on this matter (as I soon realised, I’m not cool enough for a spam account!), I was informed that the younger generation are favouring their “spam” accounts to their “main”. They are using spam accounts as a way to separate their public and private selves while still using social media. Often, main accounts are open to the public, while spam accounts are private and require the poster to accept any followers in order to permit access to one’s social media content. A spam account also makes it possible for people to easily communicate in a group without prying public eyes, and of course, their parents. It is therefore common for a spam account to have a reduced number of approved followers, in comparison to their “main”, as the former has been created to post at leisure, with no judgment for it. Only those deemed close friends, that the poster chooses to approve as followers will see the uncensored aspect of their activities on spam accounts.

One difference noticed between the two types of accounts is that a spam account contains a selection of posts or Instagram stories depicting a young person’s day out, likely showing any images captured in the moment, such as food they ate, any sights they saw, or people they interacted with. Spam accounts are designed for under-25s to post content without thinking about what they are doing. In contrast, a young person’s “main” account may contain just one image captured on that day, which has been carefully selected so that it fits the theme of their Instagram feed or will receive likes. My research has therefore shown that young people’s use of social media is constantly shifting in response to how social media platforms are used, the age of the user and the social context.

Of particular interest, is that many under-25s create “spam” accounts using limited information. They may hide their surname, preferring to use just their forename, a mixture of their initials or the name of a favourite character. During NetWatch investigations, we often see examples such as ‘@kelsey_spammm’ or ‘@kc9.backup’ arise, which evidently informs other Instagram users that they are operating a “spam” or “back-up” account. While many young people will attempt to create accounts that that they believe are untraceable to them, they will not have taken into consideration the tools and skills available to the OSINT professionals at NetWatch.

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