If you have a child between the ages of 8–18, there’s a good chance that you’re intimately familiar with TikTok and Instagram. In my case, I have heard of TikTok because my ballet students are currently begging me to join in. Have your kids tried to get you to jump on the bandwagon too?
Both of these social media platforms are super popular in this age group’s world. Technically, many social media apps (Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook to name a few) shouldn’t be used by kids under the age of 13; but that’s not slowing them down. So other than knowing the name of these platforms or being aware your kids use them, do you really know much about them?
What’s a Fake Instagram?
Let’s start with Instagram. You probably know about this one—the app where you post pictures on your profile with filters and witty captions. But do you know about fake Instagrams? A fake Instagram, or more commonly known as a “finsta” or “spam,” is simply another Instagram account kids use in addition to their usual account. It operates the same way and uses the same app.
The only difference is that this particular account is hidden from the majority of their followers who only see the real Instagram account. Kids use the “spam” to display aspects of their life to just a handful of people, are private, hard (or impossible) to find unless you know the username and usually is an account that mom and dad are not aware of.
So why create one? I asked one of my students, 17-year-old Jennifer*, about why some of her friends have a “spam.” “It’s usually just a place people use as a diary,” she says. “They tell their followers about their day, some just vent on there and it’s really just annoying. Or it’s where you post silly pictures of yourself that you wouldn’t post elsewhere. Like goofy bathroom pics or ones where you’re making fun of yourself.”
But if parents aren’t aware of these separate accounts, are kids also using “spams” to hide things from their parents? (That’s what it seems like the real intent is, right?) “Oh, yeah,” Jennifer explains. “There are definitely girls at my school who post things there because they can’t (shouldn’t) post it anywhere else.” Good to know.
What About TikTok?
TikTok is essentially a video app where users can create a short clip or live stream content. Originally, it was titled Musical.ly and primarily featured lip sync clips.
While at first glance it seems like the app still houses the silly lip sync videos and other goofy kid-friendly themes, it’s also a breeding ground of unsavory content that no child should ever lay eyes on. We’re talking self-harm and pro-eating disorder videos—even porn.
And how accessible is this stuff? Very. Another student of mine, 14-year-old Sarah*, showed me around the app, and I saw that all it takes is a simple search. “You have to train it to show you what you actually want to see,” she says. “When you first download it, you could probably see anything. But the more you watch certain videos and follow people, the app knows what you like.” (That’s slightly encouraging.)
I turned next to Sarah’s friend, 14-year-old Nina*, and asked if she’s ever accidentally encountered any of this problematic material on the app. “Yeah,” she laughs, “when I first got it. I don’t anymore now that it has kind of figured out what I like. But I’ve never seen any of the really sad stuff. I’ve seen a lot of shirtless guys though.” (Thank goodness that’s all she saw.)
Oh, and by the way, neither of these apps has any parental control settings. Sigh.
So now what? Are you itching to run to your child’s room or school, yank their phones from their hands, delete the apps and then internally scream as you walk or drive away thinking about how scary this world keeps getting? Same. But instead of (or in addition to) doing that, consider sitting down with your kiddos and have a conversation. Make sure they know how to make the right choices when it comes to the Internet and social media.
Social Media and Online Safety Tips
Consider these social media safety tips from software security company Norton:
“Educate yourself about social media.” Know your child’s interests, read app reviews, age restrictions, all the fine print, etc.
“Get a head start.” If your kid wants an Instagram or TikTok, get one first. Check it out before they log on.
“Teach your kid about posting on sites.” It’s imperative that kids know just because they deleted something, it doesn’t mean it’s actually gone. Everything they share is part of what’s called their digital footprint.
“Let your kids know the importance of privacy.” This is a biggie. Make sure your child’s profile(s) are set to private. Tell your kids not to share personal details online, such as their address, phone number or school name. Help them create suitable and strong passwords. (It wouldn’t hurt to change them occasionally too.) Tell your kids not to accept friend requests or “follows” from strangers. Talk to your kids about what their plan is if a stranger tries to communicate with them online.
And here’s one more tip: Ask your child to tell you if anyone tries to, or does, cyberbully them. They may try to say it’s nothing, or that’s just how other kids talk, but the more you’re aware of what’s going on in their digital world, the better.
*Names of the children mentioned have been changed for their privacy.
This article was originally published in February 2020.