While we are seeing social media platforms introduce features that focus on curating content for your ‘close friend’ groups, another trend is seeing a resurgence in popularity with children and young people in the UK. A ‘finsta’ (a slang term that combines ‘fake’ and ‘Insta’, a popular shortened title for ‘Instagram’) may be the new choice of account for younger generations.
Our online safety experts have taken a look at everything you need to know about finstas and how young people might be using them. We’ve also outlined the main risks associated with these accounts and our top tips for parents, carers, and safeguarding professionals.
It’s important to note that a finsta is not the same as a fake account (a profile of something or someone that either does not exist or is stolen in order to get access to specific audiences). Finstas are secondary accounts that allow users to express themselves in a different way from their primary account. They do not typically engage in scam-like or phishing activities.
What is a Finsta?
Surely a finsta is just a fake Instagram account? Not exactly. ‘Finsta’ refers to a secondary account where a user’s identity and profile are typically hidden, with access only available to a chosen group of friends or followers. It can be on any platform, including TikTok and Facebook, but Instagram seems to be the most popular choice. These accounts often use pseudonyms to avoid using real names.
While finstas are popular with celebrities like Justin Bieber and Kristen Stewart, this trend is seeing a current resurgence in use for children and young people in the UK.
According to the latest Ofcom report, two-thirds of 8-11-year-olds in the UK had multiple accounts or profiles, with almost half of them running an account just for their family to see.
Why would a young person create a finsta?
There are many reasons a young person would want to make a finsta. They may want to run an account for their pet, or start an account dedicated to a specific interest (such as photography or art). However, the cultural point behind a finsta is more nuanced than simply wanting a secondary account. Here are some of the most common reasons young people create finstas:
Authenticity – Instagram is known for presenting a ‘polished’ version of reality (which has had increasingly negative effects on mental health). The online trends of younger generations show they seek authenticity, so a finsta may allow them to express the ‘real’ version of themselves.
Connection – There are more and more adverts and ‘suggested posts’ taking up Instagram feeds due to the platform’s algorithms. A finsta could make it easier for a young person to connect with their close friends and the content that is important to them.
Anonymity – The off-the-grid nature means a young person could post photos and videos without worrying about their ‘public’ image, especially when it comes to employers, teachers, and parents and carers who may use Instagram to keep an eye on them.
Freedom – With pressure to get the most likes or comments on a post, a finsta eases the anxiety some young people might feel when using social media. They are able to post whatever they like without worrying about the response it gets.
Privacy – Connecting with a niche interest and/or community might be easier to do if a young person’s ‘real life’ is kept separate. This could include harmful behaviour, especially if a young person has family members following their main account.
Remember: Just because a young person has a finsta does not mean they are engaging in harmful activities or interests. If you discover someone in your care has a secondary or secret account, remain calm and use the opportunity to discuss what they like about it and how it benefits their social media use.
The private or anonymous nature of a finsta account may encourage young people to engage in behaviour they would not normally engage with, such as posting sexually explicit content, pursuing dangerous political ideals, or actively bullying others.
Worrisome or dangerous posts may not be addressed when they need to be by the appropriate help, especially if it involves self-harm
or other destructive behaviours. This behaviour may even be supported depending on the selected audience.
Others with access to the account may take screenshots of posts and send them to others, even if they are meant to remain private. They might also expose the owner of the account, either by accident or intentionally.
Engaging in extremist behaviour or using insensitive language while posting ‘opinion pieces’ on a finsta can still be damaging. It may expose young people to other users with harmful intentions and could implicate them in illegal activity.
A young person may be approached by other users with malicious intentions. This could leave them vulnerable to sexual manipulation, grooming, bullying, and exploitation, which may be more difficult to spot due to the secret nature of the account.
Catfishing & Sadfishing
Do you know what it means to ‘catfish’ someone? What about ‘sadfishing’? These are two terms that could tie intolarger risks with finsta accounts. Catfishing happens when someone uses a fake account to trick another person into revealing information or images of themselves.While primarily used in the world of online dating, there have been multiple cases of catfishing that have turned into cyberbullying attacks on children and young people, with some resulting in serious, harmful,and even illegal incidents. Remember: a fake account will use a false or stolen identity, will not have many followers or old posts, and will typically only engage in text-based messaging (rather than video or voice calls).
Sadfishing is a different issue we are seeing on social media. If a young personis ‘sadfishing’, it means they are posting about a personal problem online to gain support or understanding from their followers in the form of likes and comments.Thisbehaviour could be an indicator that a young person needsfurther help and support.Both anonymity or privacy with a curated ‘finsta’ audience could lead to unwanted advice, harmful comments, or a lack of engagement with a sadfishing post that ends up making the young person feel even more isolated and vulnerable than before.
Keep yourself up-to-date with all of Instagram’s updates and features by visiting our Safety Centre. To read all about the platform’s plans to introduce parental controls this year, read our recent article.
Remind the young person in your care that nothing they post online is truly private. Be it a photo or a comment, there are multiple ways their posts could be misconstrued or misused by others. Invite them to pause before they post and consider all possible outcomes.
Go through the process of protecting the images they post with them. Discussing things like copyright and reporting will help empower the young person in your care to make smart choices and to know there is help available if they need it.
Reinforce the importance of protecting personal information. Remind your young person not to share any personal details with anyone they do not know in real life, even if they feel comfortable. Anyone who knows them well enough will already know the important things.
Support their decision to have private accounts, but ask if you can check in with them around the material they are posting and the people they are interacting with. Remember – boundaries are important to create an environment of trust and comfort.
Have an open, non-judgemental conversation about finstas (and other secondary or fake accounts). Make sure this conversation happens naturally in an environment they feel comfortable in. See our question examples below for some help with how to have those conversations!
Some questions you can use when talking to young people about ‘finstas’
“I’ve just heard about a type of account called a finsta. Do you know what that is? If so, could you explain it to me?”
“What do you like about having a finsta?”
“Do any of your friends use a finsta?”
“What kind of stuff would you post on a finsta?”
“What do you think is the one thing parents don’t understand about finstas?”
“The most important thing about using any social media is staying safe – what are some ways you could stay safe if you were using a finsta?”
For further help, information, advice, and guidance: