Flop accounts: Instagram’s latest haven for online bullying

Predominantly run and used by teens, flop accounts have become a go-to source for kids to mock each other online. 

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“They kept coming up on my Instagram Explore page,” Elena, a 17-year-old high school student from Ohio, tells me. “I used to see them all the time.”

“It’s such a saturated genre of account,” Alex, an 18-year-old student from Maryland says. “I find at least three different ones I’ve never seen before every single day.”

“Love yourselves,” 26-year-old artist, Fi, urged her Twitter followers, “don’t follow [them].”

“God, I hate them,” wrote 20-year-old Teddii. “They're so nasty... They're the biggest waste of space."

Elena, Alex, Fi, and Teddii are all talking about flop accounts: an increasingly ubiquitous form of Instagram account that’s popular among teens. Under the guise of being “just for laughs”, these pages dedicate themselves to ridiculing particular groups of people, often those who are marginalised, by sharing and mocking pictures and videos taken from their Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr and TikTok accounts.

It’s unclear exactly how flop accounts got their name. Some hypothesise that they were originally created to highlight instances where other people had “flopped” – ie when a content posted online was met with a poor reception, or featured something worthy of mocking. Most flop account names are styled on a single format – “[X].flops” – where X is replaced with whatever group they set out to mock. Typical channels include “@gender.flops”, “@feminist.flops” or “@trans.flops”.  

Taylor Lorenz wrote about the rise of flop accounts for the Atlantic in July 2018. She reported that, despite having origins in bullying, flop accounts had morphed into “forums to debate the big issues”, styled like news outlets, where groups of teens would gather to post on topics like LGBT+ issues, feminism, gun ownership and race.

Much of this remains true: these accounts are typically run by groups of teens, they inspire debate, and they tend to focus on one particular issue. But over the last year, flop accounts have returned to their roots, transitioning away from a reliable news source for teens and instead becoming platforms for teen bullying.  

“I have never seen a flop news account,” Charlie, a 16-year-old high school student from Virginia tells me. “I've only ever seen them bully people.”

Flop accounts are known for their targeted harassment. Their pages are frequently dedicated to making fun of a specific person, or particular groups of marginalised people, including those with mental illnesses, transgender people, and people who simply aren’t straight.

“The accounts I've seen mostly focus on making fun of non-dysphoric trans people and queer people that are ‘different’,” Charlie tells me. “They generally make fun of people in the public eye, but often use those people to indirectly make fun of people they know.”

“I see a lot of anti-asexual [acephobic] accounts,” Alex says, “And lot of hate is also directed at, albeit not intentionally, autistic folks, as people may mock their behaviour because they do not understand their actions.”

“Children or younger people are the ones who get the brunt of this,” he says.

Nearly all the young people I spoke with described flop accounts as a symptom of a wider online “cringe culture” – where adolescents and teens are afraid of doing anything sincere online out of fear that they may be mocked and labelled “cringey” for their interests.

“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,” Alex argues. “I’ve seen people make fun of children for their appearance, for liking anime, for drawing art they think is bad, etc.” 

“To take something like an art piece or a fun TikTok video that a young person spent time on and enjoyed and then post it with the intent of your followers ‘roasting it’ or just generally making fun of it… It’s incredibly rude and frankly against Instagram’s bullying guidelines,” he adds.

Teddii tells me she’s also seen posts that mock kids for showing their creative side, on flop accounts with tens of thousands of followers. “It's one thing to just not like art,” she says, “but I find it really, really wrong that people think it’s ‘okay’ to repost art and bully the artist just because the art might not look nice, be a bit too NSFW [not safe for work], or be of a relationship they don’t like.” Teddii tells me that some of the people she’s seen targeted are as young as 12 years old.

This kind of content is entirely common on flop accounts – in fact, many make their name by making fun of young YouTubers, TikTokers, and Instagrammers for simply being themselves. “They take videos of people having fun on TikTok and make fun of them”, Elena tells me. “The majority of comments can be rude, too, and are mocking the person’s appearance.”

“Flop accounts post videos and pictures of “cringey” people that are usually doing nothing inherently wrong”, Charlie tells me. “They use those ‘easy to make fun of’ people as a generalisation for whatever group they’re singling out.”

Flop Accounts are just straight assholes yamean from r/traaaaaaannnnnnnnnns

Despite their negative connotations, though, some flops can be used for good. “There are some accounts that are dedicated to posting bigots and MAPs [‘minor-attracted people’, ie paedophiles],” Alex tells me. “They use their flop to call them out.”

This subgenre of flop is an increasingly popular form of vigilantism, where flop accounts will request that teens send in the inappropriate messages they receive from adults and share the messages and profiles to help warn others about online predators.

“If most flop accounts were used like this,” Alex says, “I wouldn’t dislike them.”

 
 
 
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

A post shared by daddy doms r incels (@ddlg.flopss) on

Part of the problem with flop accounts is that many of the people running them don’t realise the negative impact the pages have. The astonishingly young ages of these account owners means that many don’t have the emotional maturity – or awareness – to realise that mocking people on a flop account can have wider ramifications.

“Some flop[s] don't seem to genuinely want to bully others,” Teddii argues, trying to explain that not everyone running a flop account has set out with an evil plan in mind. “But because they're run by teens that are so young… usually 12-16-year-olds… they're not aware that their actions are bullying and harmful.”

“And I also have to add that when it comes to homophobic, transphobic, and acephobic accounts with clear intent to just be mean, they don't seem to last long,” Teddii tells me.

Indeed, many of the most popular flop accounts, which can accrue thousands of followers, have many versions of their account, accommodating for their original account being frozen or removed by Instagram for violating the platform’s harassment rules. Yet more often than not, these account creators are undeterred – in fact, removals regularly add fuel to their fire.

“Most of the time the account owners excuse their behaviour by saying that ‘it's just for fun’ or ‘someone’s a bit sensitive’,” Teddii says – sentiments echoed by both Charlie and Alex. “And then they tend to get their followers to target the people who call them out until it just becomes bullying on a mob mentality level.”

This problem helps bullying on flop accounts to grow – making them an inevitable part of many teens’ daily Instagram experience. Because they’re rife with controversy, provoke beef, and encourage commenting (both good and bad), it seems unlikely that their popularity will cease. While Alex thinks there’s hope for toxic behaviour on flop accounts to subside, he doesn’t see it stopping.

“Even though I see people speaking out against the hate and bullying,” he tells me, “I don’t think they’ll ever entirely go away.”

Sarah Manavis is the New Statesman's tech and digital culture writer.