Last week, the National Cybersecurity Alliance in cooperation with Microsoft released the results of their study on the online safety attitudes and behaviors of families. They asked both kids and parents about their online lives including what problems they faced and how families worked together. Often parents were in the dark about their teen’s online activities.
One of the challenges parents talked about was being aware of what their child was doing online. This study found 60% of teen internet users said they had created online accounts their parents were unaware of. Only 28 percent of parents suspected their teens had secret accounts.
One of the secret accounts your teen may have is a finsta. Finsta stands for Fake Instagram. Teens also call these accounts spam accounts.
What is a Finsta or Spam Account?
For teens, Instagram is one of the most popular social networks. On Instagram, teens share pictures and videos with classmates, teammates and friends of friends. Many teens have 100s of followers. The pictures they post are carefully chosen to garner likes and approval from their followers.
A finsta/spam account is second Instagram account used for sharing personal photos with only a few close friends. These accounts are private. Most accounts have less than 50 approved followers. On a finsta/spam account, teens share spontaneous, funny, silly pictures that would not make their carefully curated main Instagram account.
Finstas really took off this year when Instagram allowed users to link up multiple accounts. Before, teens had to create an entirely new profile then log on and off to switch between them. Now, on Instagram, users can add up to 5 different accounts and manage them under one profile. Each account is a separate with its own email, username and profile information. Teens can easily post between their main Instagram or to their finsta/spam account by simply clicking back and forth.
Why are teens creating Finstas?
Social media is a public performance. On Instagram, teens broadcast streams of pictures of amazing parties, spectacular events and perfect faces. Never is there a dull moment or a bad selfie.
As Essena O’Neill, a 18-year-old social media star, stated, “Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real. It’s contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers.”
With a finsta/spam account, teens can escape the popularity contest associated with Instagram. On these accounts, only shared with a few close friends, they do not have to worry about likes or attracting followers. Without the social pressure, teens may find themselves posting more to their fake account about their real lives than on their idealized main Instagram account.
What are the concerns?
For many teens, their finsta or spam account is full of silly selfies and funny memes. For some older teens, they are using their finsta to hide activities from coaches, teachers or parents. These secret finsta accounts may contain pictures from a party or photos containing alcohol or drugs.
These accounts do not always stay hidden. High school is a small environment and teens talk. Word may get out to a coach or teacher that this activity is happening. Teens themselves may accidentally share it more widely. It is easy to forget to switch accounts and post an inappropriate photo on your public, main Instagram. Close friends can still take a screenshot and share it with other friends.
How do I know if my teen has one?
The best way to find out is to ask them. Parents can casually bring up finsta/spam accounts during dinner or a carpool. Start by asking if they have heard of these accounts and if their friends at school have them. From there, see where the conversation takes you. If nothing else, you have shown an awareness of social media that may surprise them.
If your phone contract includes periodic checks, parents can see if there is another account by checking their kid’s Instagram account. Open their Instagram, go to their profile and tap on their username at the top of the screen. If they have linked up their accounts, parents will see a list of multiple accounts. After talking, parents and kids may decide to delete added Instagram accounts. Especially for young teens new to Instagram and still learning about social media, families may decide one Instagram account is enough.
For older teens, trying to find their finsta account may be like finding a needle in a haystack. A teen who is posting questionable photos may have an entirely separate account set up not linked to their main account. The reality is most teens, if motivated, will know enough to conceal a second account. To be on the safe side, parents should talk to their teen about privacy and finsta/spam accounts.
Talking to Teens about Finstas
If your teen has a finsta, do not panic. Most of these accounts contain goofy photos and random thoughts or funny jokes. These secret accounts are not always fool proof. Parents should still talk to their teens about these accounts and remind them –
- Even close friends can take screenshots of private photos and share them more widely.
- Friends talking at school about questionable or provocative photos could lead to a teacher or coach finding out about the picture.
- Toggling back and forth between accounts makes it easy to accidentally post a questionable picture to their main Instagram account.
While Finstas can be a respite from online social pressure, teens still need to be careful about what they post. A finsta with pictures of alcohol or drugs is never a good idea. Even with close friends, teens should be thoughtful about what they share.
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