You’ve heard of Instagram, but have you heard of finstagram? “Finstagram” or “finsta” is the term teens use for a fake Instagram account. Teens create these secondary Instagram accounts for a variety of reasons—some harmless and some not-so-harmless.

The point of a real Instagram account is to post filtered, attractive photos to a broad audience, in order to get as many likes as possible. A finsta, on the other hand, may have a host of alternate purposes.

Innocent reasons for creating a finstagram account

Sometimes the purpose of a finsta might even be admirable. It might be an account where a teen posts imperfect selfies, random comments, and things that wouldn’t make the cut for their "real" Instagram. In some ways this makes finsta more authentic. It’s where teens feel comfortable posting more of their real selves, for the consumption of just a few close friends. While a typical teen might have hundreds of followers on their real Instagram, their finsta followers might number in the tens.

Everything that goes on my regular Instagram is a picture of me and other people, and everybody looks good, and it feels important. On finstagram, you post whatever you want because you don’t care.

Rebecca Cibbarelli, 18, in the New York Times

Not-so-innocent reasons for creating a finstagram account

But sometimes finstagrams are used for a darker, more secretive purpose. In fact, according to a recent Elle magazine article, the very point is sometimes to fool parents. Following their teen’s real Instagram account may make parents feel like they’re in the know. Meanwhile, teens are posting photos of parties where drugs or alcohol are present, or other risky teen behaviors, to the secret finsta account. In this way, even attentive parents are kept in the dark about the places where actual danger and poor decision-making lurk.

We've also heard of instances where a teen creates a finsta account for the purpose of trolling or teasing other people. An account that puts photos of various boys and girls into "couples," for example, in order to spur gossip.

Balancing privacy with transparency

Knowing that finstas are common, I think it may be even more important for parents to have an idea of what’s on the "secret" accounts than on the "real" ones. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s good to let teens have some privacy. I also understand that teens are driven by their developing brains to do stuff exactly like this—take risks and try to subvert authority.

But… I also think that as a parent, it’s my job to act as a safety net. While my children try out their new almost-adult skills on the adolescent tightrope, I want to know about the type and level of risk-taking they’re engaged in. I may not intervene for something that feels like just stupid teenage experimentation. But I want to know enough about what my kids are doing, seeing, and saying, that I can step in when those innocent experiments cross into negative, life-changing territory.

It is not just normal to have a finsta, it is expected.

Above is Eric Herber's friend Christina's real Instagram account. Below is Christina's finstagram.

Knowing is half the battle

So now that you know what a finstagram is—how do you find out if your teen has one?

  • Step one is to simply assume that if your teen has had a phone for more than 6 weeks, or is over the age of 15—they have a finsta.

  • Each new Instagram account requires a new email address. So if you suspect your teen has opened a second email account, that’s a clue there may be a reason behind it.

  • Listen to the teen-chatter. I’m not suggesting putting a cup to the door during a slumber party—just be aware of the chit chat coming from the backseat on the way to the movies. Often, teens are oblivious to the parents in the room, and/or assume that you’re just too old to understand what they’re discussing. (Which might have been true before, but now you’ve read this!)

  • Of course, there’s always the straight-forward option: simply ask your teen whether they have a finstagram, and see what they have to say (and how they say it. Sometimes what isn’t said tells you more than what is.) Want more tips on talking to your teens about social media? Check this out.

How RAKKOON detects finstagram accounts

At RAKKOON we’ve known from the beginning about finstagram and other fake accounts. For most social networks we automatically capture the content from all accounts, both real and "fake." When you look at a flagged Instagram post in RAKKOON, you'll see your child's username—so you can tell if there's more than one account being used. Although it’s not possible to do this for all social networks, where it is possible, we do it.

The kind of parent-defeating behavior evidenced by finstagrams (and which, let me emphasize, is completely normal and developmentally appropriate, and not a sign that your teenager is a sociopath), is one of the reasons we created RAKKOON the way we did.

It’s an arms race, and as parents we need to keep upping our game, to match the ingenuity of the teenage brain.

These platforms aren’t going anywhere, and we won’t get anywhere by trying to fight them or say they are bad. We need to be aware of how they’re operating for us and to build more agency around how we interact with them. That’s the best we can hope for.

Dr. Leora Trub, Clinical Psychologist, in the New York Times

One last thing

Instagram recently issued an update that includes a host of new features—including Instagram Stories, which is essentially a rip-off of Snapchat Stories. Concerned about Instagram becoming more like Snapchat? Learn more about what you should and shouldn't worry about here.