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Setting up social media accounts for the purpose of maliciously impersonating another is not a new concept. Being the target of an impersonation account can be devastating, and the creators of these accounts don’t come out unscathed either. Here we give our top tips for managing impersonation accounts for parents whose children are subjects or creators.
Written by Cyber Expert:
Impersonation accounts set up by young people are used for a range of purposes (none of which are good) including perpetrating cyberbullying, inciting violence, or making sexually suggestive, rude, or polarizing remarks. Two of the most common reasons for kids creating impersonation accounts are for retribution or ‘as a joke’. Unfortunately, this method of online torment has proven relatively persistent, and whilst social media and other online platforms have, over the years, developed their user identity verification systems, these accounts continue to pop up.
If you find out that your child is the target of an impersonation account online, the first course of action should be to have the account taken down. The longer these accounts remain active, the more people view the content and become involved (through commenting and following, etc.), the worse the outcome for the target. You can report impersonation accounts on most gaming and social media platforms. Guides on how to report impersonation accounts on some of the most popular online platforms are provided below. If the platform you are concerned about is not shown here, Google: “ ‘Platform Name’ report abuse”.
Reporting an impersonation account on Instagram can be tricky. The guideline for reporting these accounts can be found here. Be aware that Instagram only allows the person being impersonated or an authorized representative (parent or guardian) to make the report. As a part of this process, you will be required to provide Instagram with a photograph of the person being impersonated holding photo identification.
If your child has the impersonation account as a Snapchat friend, you can report the account directly through the app by following these steps:
Open Snapchat and tap on the Bitmoji (character) shown at the top left-hand corner of the screen.
Select ‘My Friends’ from the menu. Use the search bar to locate the impersonation account.
Hold your finger down on the contact name and select ‘More’ from the menu that appears.
Select ‘Report’ and then ‘They are pretending to be me’.
If you do not have access to a Snapchat account or to the impersonator account, you can follow the process outlined here.
If your child is being impersonated on Tik Tok, follow the steps outlined here to report the account.
The guideline for reporting impersonation accounts on Facebook can be found here. Be aware that Facebook only allows the person being impersonated or an authorized representative (parent or guardian) to make the report. As a part of this process, you will be required to provide a photo/copy of a picture ID of the person being impersonated. Facebook accepts the ID types shown here.
Remove the account: If you discover that your child has created an impersonation account targeting someone then have them delete the account straight away.
Identification & motivation: The next step is to sit down for a calm conversation (the keyword being ‘calm’). Having our children do something that could hurt or embarrass another child can be extremely distressing. Give yourself the opportunity to process and address your own emotions first, before entering into a conversation with your child. It will make for a far more productive outcome.
Let your child know that in order to help them, it’s important that you know the full extent of what occurred. The prompting questions below may be helpful if your child is reluctant to freely offer information (just remember to give them space to respond, even when the silences feel awkward):
When did you set up the account?
What made you want to set up the account in the first place?
Was anyone else involved?
What were you trying to achieve?
How do you think this has impacted *target name*?
What impact do you think this could have on your reputation?
What impact do you think this could have on *target name* reputation?
How do you think we should deal with this?
Involving others: Based on the outcome of your conversation, decide who should and shouldn’t become involved. This decision should also be guided by your objectives, which typically in these situations are for your child to stop what they are doing, ensure the target’s safety & wellbeing, get your child to understand the seriousness of what they have done, and prevent your child from ever doing this sort of thing again. Be aware that in some cases, other parties (such as the school or law enforcement) may become involved beyond your control.
Determine consequences: Discuss consequences with your child and give them the opportunity to provide input (research shows that children are likely to set more severe consequences to misbehavior than their parents and teachers). Consequences should be related to what they have done, support your objectives, and focus on upskilling your child so that hopefully, they don’t repeat the behavior. Ensure that all consequences are implemented as discussed.
Retaliation and re-offense: Keep a close eye on your child and continue to make their online experience a regular talking point. Preventing your child from making any further attempts to impersonate or harass the target is essential. On the flip side, it’s equally important to ensure that retaliation isn’t being sought against your child for what they may have done in the past.
This depends on the circumstances. Schools have access to wellbeing support resources (such as counselors) that can be helpful in these situations. Circumstances where you may consider engaging the school include:
If you have a concern regarding the safety and wellbeing of one or more of their students.
If the incident involved multiple students from your child’s school.
If the account is, in any way, targeting or involving a school staff member.
If you need direction.
If cyberbullying through an impersonation account is targeting a person under the age of 18 years old, you can report the incident to the child's school. Depending on the nature and severity of the incident, you may also consider contacting local law enforcement for guidance.
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