So we all know that there are a lot of people in the digital world that pretend to be someone else to lure our children into anything from information sharing to sextortion. That is known as Catfishing. What we don’t often think about is that our precious children are navigating the complex online world where they sometimes feel a need to adopt fake personas. The favourite platform at the moment to have a fake identity is Instagram. Known as your FINSTA ACCOUNT, most of our kids are experimenting with several “finstas” at one time: They may have one Insta account (that you have access to, believing in full that they are posting sweet videos on how to make butter cream icing) …and one for their friends where they only share party images with their besties …and another for makeup experiments hoping an influencer will catch few views and give a like or two… and yet another to share provocative images under a pseudonym of sorts. There are many reasons why our children create fake online profiles, and while it might be baffling and at times, concerning, it’s essential to grasp why they do this and how to approach the conversation.
Why our screenagers create fake online identities:
Our kids create fake online identities for healthy reasons and less healthy reasons. It is important for us to know the reasons and then to help them discern what they are really hoping to gain from a fake online presence.
1. Privacy and Authenticity: Teens often feel the need for a space where they can express their true selves without judgment. They create fake accounts to curate content for a select audience, allowing for more genuine self-expression.
2. Protection from Peer Pressure: Fake identities can provide a buffer from the constant social pressures they face. It allows them to explore their identities without the fear of scrutiny or bullying.
3. Testing Boundaries: Adolescence is a period of self-discovery, and experimenting with different identities online can be a part of that exploration. It’s a way for them to try on different personas and see what fits.
4. Escaping Real-Life Stress: Creating a fake identity offers a temporary escape from the stress and expectations of real life, allowing teens to relax and have fun without consequences.
5. The ugly hide-out: Sometimes our kids hide out online with a fake identity to get away with being unkind to others online. They create a profile hoping to get away with cruelty, unlawful behaviour, illegal behaviour and harassment and bullying. Needless to say this kind of “not in my name” behaviour goes against our family values and most school’s code of conduct! At KLIKD we have frequently worked with Forensic investigators to uncover who is behind a hurtful Finsta accounts and in most cases, the person is tracked! Our kids do not expect to be caught and much in the way of collateral damage occurs.
How are our children creating fake online identities?
It is also important for us to know how our children are creating these fake online identies – again we need to help them recognise what is harmful and hurtful from what is playful and experimental.
1. Catfishing: This involves creating a fake persona, often on dating or social media platforms, to deceive others. Catfishers may use someone else’s photos and personal information to engage in online relationships.
2. Role-Playing Games (RPGs): In online RPGs and virtual worlds, teens may create characters with entirely different backgrounds, personalities, and appearances to explore different aspects of their identity or experience a fantasy life.
3. Anonymous Forums and Chatrooms : Teens might use pseudonyms or aliases when participating in anonymous online forums and chatrooms to freely express opinions or discuss sensitive topics without revealing their real identities.
4. Fake Bloggers or Influencers: Some teens aspire to become online influencers or bloggers and may fabricate aspects of their lives, such as travel experiences, interests, or possessions, to gain followers or attention.
5. Trolling and Cyberbullying: In a more harmful context, some teens may adopt fake identities to engage in trolling or cyberbullying, targeting others while hiding behind a screen.
6. Virtual Reality Avatars : In VR environments and games, teens can create avatars with different appearances and personas to interact with others, exploring their identity in a virtual space.
7. Fan Accounts : Teens may create fan accounts dedicated to celebrities or fandoms where they adopt a fan persona, assuming the identity of the celebrity or character they admire.
8. Pseudonymous Creative Projects: Some teens may use pen names or pseudonyms when sharing creative work, such as writing, art, or music, allowing them to separate their artistic expression from their real-life identity.
9. Fantasy or Fan Fiction Communities: Teens often engage in writing and participating in fantasy or fan fiction communities, where they create stories with fictional characters and adopt pen names or pseudonyms.
10. Exploratory Social Experimentation: Teens may create fake profiles to explore social dynamics, experiment with interactions, or better understand how others perceive different personalities.
So what must I do?
1. Ask Open-Ended Questions: Instead of accusing, ask open-ended questions like, “I know it’s a thing to have a Finsta account. What are some of the kids in your grade using them for?
2. Encourage Critical Thinking: Help them think critically about the personas they create and interact with online without directly lecturing about how they could ruin their reptuation.
3. Set Healthy Boundaries: Together, establish guidelines for their online presence. Perhaps allow them to have two Finstas if they are used for alternative ways to express their identity.
4. Ensure that you have expressed what your family boundaries might be in respect fake accounts, particularly those that are created to hurt others.
So what do I say?
1. “I get having a Finsta account is almost a given – or am I wrong? Tell me a bit more about why you guys like them.
2. “How do you decide what to share on your real account versus your fake account?”
3. “Have you ever encountered a situation online where someone’s fake identity caused a problem or led to a break up?”
4. Do you agree that there is a huge difference between catfishing to cause someone shame or hurt for example versus making an avatar of yourself on an online game? Let’s discuss what the boundaries are for fake accounts in our family.
4. “How do you think your online personas reflect your real-life experiences and emotions?”
5. “If you had a child, what do you think would be some fair rules when it comes to having Finsta accounts. What are some rules you think are essential for our family?”
6. “If you could give advice to your friends or peers about creating fake online identities, what would it be?”
It’s important to recognize that not all forms of adopting fake identities online are harmful or deceptive. Many teens use these online personas as a way to explore various facets of their identity, express themselves more freely, or simply engage in online communities and role-playing games. However, understanding and open communication with our kids about these behaviours can help ensure their online experiences are safe, fun and responsible.
Sarah and Pam