Finsta and Spam Accounts Aren’t New
In August 2016, The National Cybersecurity Alliance in cooperation with Microsoft released the results of their study of online safety attitudes and behaviors of parents and teens. Researchers interviewed 804 teens between the ages of 13 and 17 and a separate group of 810 parents, discovering a “complex relationship” between the groups and obvious signs of the digital disconnect regarding knowledge and understanding.
One of the most illustrative representations of this disconnect surfaced in their finding that “60 percent of teen internet users have created online accounts that their parents are unaware of – more than double the 28 percent of online parents who suspect their teens have secret accounts.”
I’ve written extensively about Instagram, offering my thoughts on its risks (many) and benefits (few). There are two important trends about how kids use Instagram that parents should pay attention to.
What is a Finsta Account on Instagram?
Before reading this section, it’s important for parents to know that not all fake accounts are bad. Don’t jump to conclusions! Did you have a secret diary? Yes. Some kids need a few places where they can be a bit more honest.
- Finsta – a “fake” or secondary Instagram account. This type of account can be used for a wide range of activities, including undercover bullying or simply wanting to only share certain photos with a certain sub-set of very best friends.
- Spam account – teens create an Instagram “spam” account specifically for sharing their more personal, unpolished, rough pictures with their inner circle. In other words, a “spam” account is a type of finsta. The term spam comes from the username of the secondary account, which usually includes the word “spam” along with their handle. For example, “spam__chrisw.”
The term “Finstas” has been around for a few years now, but these types of accounts really took off in 2016 when Instagram allowed users to link up multiple accounts under one profile. Prior to this, users had to create an entirely new profile then log on and off to switch between them in the app, which was a pain.
Now, on Instagram, users can add up to five different accounts and manage them under one profile. Each account is separate with its own email, username, and profile information. Teens can now easily toggle back and forth between their “real” and “spam” account.
Finsta and Spam FAQ
Parents might have some of the following questions.
Why Have a Finsta Account?
It comes down to one word—image. By hitting the gas pedal in a car, you rev the engine, causing the car to go faster. Social media revs the popularity engine. Kids work tirelessly to craft and manage a social media image that revs strong and loud. Even if it requires taking 150 selfies in order to find the perfect duck face.
What Can Go Wrong With a Finsta Account?
For younger Instagram users, finsta accounts usually contain silly and/or raw and embarrassing photos. But, for older users, these accounts might contain photos displaying riskier behavior like drinking and partying. Kids need to be aware of the reputation risks that exist even if the photos are only shared with good friends. Friendship change and revenge is tempting. What if a teacher or coach became aware of those pictures? These are real risks with real consequence.
Anonymous bullying is also a risk with Finsta accounts. When kids believe that no one will be able to figure out who is saying certain things, the temptation to say mean and cruel things increases significantly. A fake account allows kids to use that account to leave comments that can really hurt other kids.
By maintaining multiple accounts, kids are also practicing the behavior of wearing multiple masks. Growing up is hard enough. Why bear the additional burden of managing multiple personas?
How can Parents Guard Against Finstas?
Keep that doorway to conversation wide open. I find that whatever gets talked about openly and honestly usually has less deceptive power over us. For example, a conversation with your daughter might be:
“Honey, you and I both know that you could create five different Instagram accounts without me ever knowing about it. But, I really don’t want you to do that. We have built up trust and I want to keep that. Plus, the risks of someone getting their hands on risky photos is just too great with screenshots, revenge, etc.”
Inspect your kid’s devices from time to time. **These steps are very important.
- Open Instagram and look for multiple profiles. You can do this by tapping on their profile in the lower right (see image below).
- If they’re logged into multiple Instagram accounts, there will be a drop-down arrow next to their username at the top. I’ve shown both of my accounts in the drop-down in the picture below. The second and most overlooked way to check for a Finsta is to go into the account that you do know about (the one they’ve told you about) and check all of the accounts that are following them and that they are following. Question anything you don’t recognize or that looks unusual.
- If they have multiple accounts, there’s a good chance they’re following it in some way. A highly motivated kid could log in and out and never follow any of his multiple accounts and effectively hide the activity. But, regular and unpredictable searches of the device, along with persistent and consistent conversation, are more likely than not to uncover something….eventually.
**Wait! Chris, did you just recommend that I perform random searches of my kid’s Internet-ready device? Absolutely. If dad is paying for the service, then every device on the plan is co-owned. That’s the house rule. No matter who bought the iPhone or who received it as a birthday or Christmas gift. Co-ownership is mandatory.
Ask yourself – is 13 the right age for my kid? Just because Instagram’s rules state that users must be at least 13 to have an account, that doesn’t mean every 13-year-old is ready for Instagram. Remember, in addition to some of the fake account risks we’ve discussed here, Instagram has many other risks and an overall lack of parental controls that do not make it a prime platform for entry into the social media world. Can your kid handle the risks? Maybe.
Related Post: What’s the Right Age to Give My Kid Social Media?
Our Recommended Parental Control Solution for Instagram: BARK
Although Instagram doesn’t have any parental controls of its own, the BARK app gives parents peace of mind by automatically letting parents know of potentially inappropriate activity on Instagram and Snapchat accounts. BARK monitors the images and videos kids upload and also the comments on those posts. Additionally, Bark’s algorithm detects language including “fake” or “finsta” in the comments, alerting parents. It’s awesome!
*There are affiliate links throughout this post because we’ve tested and trust a small list of parental control solutions. Our work saves you time! If you decide that you agree with us, then we may earn a small commission, which does nothing to your price. Enjoy!
I love life. Seriously! Each. Day. A. Gift. Former CPA, business advisor, youth pastor, development director. Manage marketing efforts for Covenant Eyes and CEO of PYE. God shares wild ideas with me about life while I run. I have a relentless drive to help families use technology well.