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Finsta: Why a Fake Instagram Account Might Not Be as Bad as You Think

Some parents might be surprised to learn that their teen has been using a second Instagram account, one not available for public consumption. Finsta is fake Instagram account. But to young users, it’s anything but fake: It’s a private virtual stomping ground. It’s for kids who know that not everything should be made public, and who want a place to be themselves.

A Fake Instagram Account?

“Everyone has their main account where they have most of their followers: people they’ve met a few times, school acquaintances, and their main friends,” my daughter explained. “But finsta is a second account. It’s private. You have people who are closer to you so you feel more comfortable posting certain content that you might not post on your main account.”

A smaller following—and a closer circle of buds—means they’re a go-to for funny memes, talking about a bad day or a failed test, opening up if you’re feeling depressed or have a wacky incident to share. As my daughter offered: “Like OMG, I was on the bus today, and this crazy lady started twerking!”

To their credit, the collective youth hive has managed to carve out a space that’s not all about the photoshopped selfie!  It’s a place to be perfectly imperfect, and to share the good, the bad, and the ugly with a trusted circle of friends.

Why Teens Love Finstas

People put a lot of thought into a fun and creative username on their finstas, often invoking puns or jokes. An online source for the older set suggested putting more thought into a username than naming a baby. Okay, maybe that’s going a bit too far. But it shows the level of consideration given to this detail (and don’t forget the clever bio line.)

The Internet even boasts sites dedicated to generating available handles. (For giggles, I plugged in some data about myself and the site churned out “Coffeerjah” for me. My gut tells me, however, that most kids have fun figuring it out on their own. They love the creative aspect, the chance to get ridiculous.

Talk to teens finstas, and you’ll likely hear the word “funny” the most. They’ll also talk about having a place to reflect on their feelings. The main reason for having the account isn’t to share risqué images that adults shouldn’t see, but to have a place to be authentic without the pressure of being polished—and subject to judgment.

When there’s cause for concern

A survey from the past few years suggests that finstas were initially hailed as a place to hide from parents. But according to my teen and her friends, they have evolved into a venue where teens go to be authentic and escape the expectations of public spaces.

Of course, a secret account isn’t always harmless. “Some kids do use finsta to share light-hearted or silly events with a more limited group of friends. But other teens may use finsta to show off pictures that might reveal inappropriate or even illegal activities such as underage drinking,” says Erin McCowey, program assistant at the Family Online Safety Institute.

Because of the nature of finstas, parents may have no way to know whether the content is just plain fun or something more worrisome. But in either case, says McCowey, parents should be sure to counsel their teens about being smart online.

“Hiding behind a private account in both situations may still harm a child’s digital reputation,” says McCowey. “Teach your child to always think before they post and ask themselves if the picture is something they really want others to see. Remind them that just because an account is private, doesn’t always mean someone won’t share the pictures.”

A Safe Space Online?

Kids need to be thoughtful about how they want to be perceived, and to consider long-term implications. To their credit, the teens I know who use non-public Instagram accounts do seem to understand that inappropriate posts can be potential hazards for college prospects and career.

And while Instagram is the most reported platform for abuse, public shaming, picking someone’s appearance apart, and inviting others to post nasty comments are typically not seen on private accounts, according to an organization called Ditch the Label, which tracks reports of online abuse.

To my mind, finstas seem to offer more to like than to dislike. We all need a safe space to share our feelings, and if finsta is serving that purpose? Well, maybe that’s not so bad.

Margaret Hetherman

Margaret Hetherman is a Brooklyn-based writer and mother with eyes open to climate math. She is a graduate of the University of Michigan, and holds an M.F.A. from New York University. Connect with her on Twitter @hetherman