* At the request of those interviewed for this piece, names have been changed.
The lines between what’s real and what’s fake are blurred on social media. The severity of phoniness varies, as does the impact such phoniness has on users. While some social media sites are cracking down on fake content, Instagram has changed its platform, in part to accommodate the rise of a new Instagram trend: The finsta.
“A finsta is a fake Instagram account,” 19-year-old Bri explains. “You post whatever. You post really wild things you wouldn’t want anyone to see like your grandma.”
Bri and her friend Rachel are among Instagram’s 600 million users. They are young and smart and fashionable, dressed as if they just stepped out of an Urban Outfitters ad. Rachel doesn’t have her own finsta account, but follows a number of her friends that do. Bri, on the other hand, is a finsta pro.
Finsta is a relatively new thing, starting in response to parents creating their own social media accounts. The number of 30 to 49-year-olds using social media has shot up 69 percent since 2005. That same age group of online adults accounted for 33 percent of Instagram users in 2016. Social media has effectively been infiltrated by nosy parents. So naturally, teens found a work around. The solution on Instagram was finsta.
“My finsta is unfiltered. That’s the point”, Bri says “This is kind of like an outlet to show everyone ‘yeah, I go hard’”. Finsta is a fake account, secondary to one’s real Instagram profile, or rinsta. When asked if her parents knew she had a finsta, she responded with an emphatic, “Oh God, no!”. She later disclosed she has at least three Instagram accounts.
Social media etiquette, especially on Instagram, is intense. There are strict rules that users ought to follow to ensure maximum number of followers and likes.
“Your makeup will always be done on your regular Instagram. Your clothes will be perfect”, Rachel outlines. “No bra strap showing. Hair on fleek, everything in place”.
Bri picks up from there, explaining how you have to get photo approval from friends, pick a filter, then resubmit the filtered photo for final friend approval, think of a witty caption, and finally wait for the optimal time to post the photo to ensure maximum number of likes (it’s from 7:00- 9:00 pm if you were wondering). These things matter on Instagram, but on finsta, you can go ahead and burn the playbook.
If Instagram is a platform to share your best self, then finsta is, quite literally, the opposite.
“On finsta, everything will be half off, a drink spilled on you. It’s just not a good picture”, Rachel says. “It’s almost like blackmailing yourself.”
The girls admit most of the photos they see on friends’ finstas are goofy Snapchats or photos intentionally taken from unflattering angles just to get laughs. But there are quite a few that push the limit, and some of the posts they describe, are borderline obscene. “I saw somebody post a picture of their boobs and they just left it up forever”, Bri recalls. “‘I’m really drunk’ was the caption.”
But what if finsta goes wrong? What if your parents find out? What if one of your finsta followers screenshots one of your posts? A recent survey conducted by the Girl Scouts of America showed 59 percent of girls think they have complete control over what happens with photos and videos they post online. That same survey says many girls are concerned their social networking content could prevent them from getting into their college of choice (42%), will miss out on a job opportunity (40%), or will get them in trouble with friends and teachers (40%).
Bri says she keeps her finsta account private and regularly audits her finsta followers, even going so far as blocking people every once in a while “just to be safe.” Plus, finsta profile names, or handles, are usually a mash-up of the user’s name and numbers. The intention is to make the finsta account harder--but not impossible--to find. But other than that, it’s a risk she’s willing to take.
Social media can take up a lot of time, especially considering that over half of online adults use more than one social media platform. Just the thought of managing yet another account seems daunting, but the idea makes sense to young adults.
All those rules for Instagram don’t apply with finsta. You can post as often as you like, no friend approval necessary. The number of likes don’t matter, and the number of followers on a finsta account are kept intentionally low. It’s a no pressure, judgment-free zone.
That’s a big reason why so many teens, especially girls, are flocking to finsta.
“Any social media account is a reflection of ourselves and they’re very curated”, says Paul Booth, associate professor at DePaul University's College of Communication, explains in recent a TeenVogue article. He goes on to describe how people tailor their behavior depending on their audience.
On Instagram, users create content for the masses, giving hundreds of people access to explore, and critique, their lives. But with finsta, “you get to curate an authentic version of yourself for the people who are following you without having to worry about how many likes you’re getting or feeling judged by your followers.”
Instagram carries an inherent level of judgement. With finsta, you’re free.