When Mandy gets invited to a party, it’s not via Facebook invite, or email, or even text message. She’s 13, so, naturally, it’s through Instagram.
Here’s how it works: When teenagers are planning a big party, they’ll sometimes create a new Instagram account, often with a handle that includes the date of the party, like @Nov17partyy or @SarahsBdayOctober27. The account will be set to private, and its bio will list the date of the party and sometimes the handles of the organizers. Sometimes it will include stipulations—for example, if it follows you, or approves your follow request, you’re invited.
“Everyone uses social media as a form of validation for the parties, and no one knows the address to the house until they post it an hour before it starts,” Christian Brown, a 19-year-old student, says. “That’s the best way to get people talking.”
According to Brown and others, the pivot to Instagram happened within the past year or so, and started with kids in Los Angeles. “Calabasas teens started this I was one of them sorry mom,” one girl recently tweeted about the trend. But kids as far away as New York, Baltimore, and Chicago have jumped on the Instagram party-planning bandwagon. It all depends on what school you go to.
For schools where the trend has caught on, a “party account” essentially acts as a mini website, and will often set up a series of “requirements” for attendance. “They’ll post things like, ‘Please unfollow if you’re below sixth grade,’ ‘You have to be following the main accounts of the people who run the party,’ stuff like that, or, ‘Unfollow if you do this,’ or, ‘We won’t let you come if X,’” says Mandy, who, like many of the teens in this story, asked to be referred to by her first name only. Recent posts on an account for a high-school Halloween party encouraged guests to arrive in costume, provided the address of the party, and clarified that no eighth graders would be allowed.
Mandy says that the accounts also usually clarify how open the party is and what constitutes an actual invite. They’ll post things like, “‘If we accept you [as a follower], you can come, if we follow you back that means we want you to come,’” she says.
lesson from teen cousins who live in LA: when teens have big parties they make a new insta account ~for the party~ and people have to request to follow it, and an approval means you can come to the party??? and you have to show your insta to get into the party (there is security)— mo mcbirney (@motormo) November 25, 2018
Sebastian, an 18-year-old in Los Angeles, says that nearly every big party he’s recently attended had a dedicated Instagram account. Just four years ago, he was still getting Facebook event invites, but now, “I don’t remember the last time a party was on Facebook,” he says. The switch to Instagram allows kids to escape the ever-watchful eye of parents and other adults like school administrators or police. “When you think Facebook, you think, your grandma and mom are on that,” says Jason, who is also 18. “They’re probably following you. Insta is different.”
While Facebook event pages make clear who their organizers are, Instagram party accounts frequently don’t divulge that information. The anonymity of a party page allows for plausible deniability if the account gets discovered by a parent. If a party you spent weeks hyping up on Instagram gets out of hand, you can simply “be like, ‘Yeah, I had friends over and more people came,’” says Brown.
It also becomes easier to reuse pages for events. Some kids will spin up a party account for something like a birthday party, and then when it comes time for a new event, they’ll reuse the same account. It’s easier than having to start from scratch and build a new list and a separate event. Plus, you know that the info you post will go directly into your friends’ feeds.
Often, the kids who create party accounts are painfully aware of how important it is that the party looks cool. “Some kids will buy followers to make the party look bigger,” says Sebastian. Mass following and unfollowing to pique interest is another common tactic. Rory, a 13-year-old, says, “You can tell people to post on their story to promote it, to hype it up more.” Such a shout-out could grant attendees special privileges, like a plus-one.
Sometimes this strategy backfires. If a party account gets too much attention or parents begin talking, the party may be shut down before it even starts. “In the end, half of them say, ‘Oh, sorry, I’m not allowed to do this anymore,’” says Mandy. She says that about 60 percent of the parties with Instagram accounts she sees don’t end up happening or are postponed. This is partially due to the fact that many teens who start party accounts never intended to host a party in the first place: They create the accounts simply as a quick way to grow followers.
Teens say that most Instagram parties, assuming they take place, are pretty ordinary. “These parties, you go to the house, you hang out with everyone, you eat, play games, talk, chill, do whatever. You’ll go out maybe, walk around. You dance,” says Rory. Some larger, open parties charge kids at the door. Brown says that when he lived in Los Angeles last summer, he frequented some large Instagram parties and was surprised by how much cash the organizers would pull in.
Some teenagers whom he was friends with even turned Instagram party marketing into a full-fledged business. If you know someone who is over 18 and can rent out an Airbnb for the night, it’s easy to make a party Instagram account, follow hundreds of kids from local high schools, charge them a few dollars at the door, set up a DJ, and walk away with more than $1,000. After using the money to cover any damages, the organizers split the cash. Sometimes they even hire “security,” often in the form of slightly older kids.
Ethan Mark, a 26-year-old who works in event promotion, is connected to a lot of middle-school kids on Instagram through his siblings and sees a lot of party accounts in his feed. He’s even considered making a party account for his more grown-up events.
But even if the concept doesn’t catch on among adults, there’s no shortage of teen party accounts, especially in the Los Angeles area. “There’s usually parties every weekend,” Sebastian says. “You won’t always know whose party you’re going to, but there will be an account for it.”