On Finstas

Not too long ago I got a friend request from a finsta. I thought it might be a mistake because I didn’t know the person very well and wasn’t aware I was a finsta-worthy acquaintance. When this person accepted my follow back I figured it wasn’t an accident. And when I looked at their account I remembered how much I love following finstas.

As someone majoring in media it can be hard not to be weird and pretentious about it all the time. I believe the avenues through which we communicate with others, express ourselves, and consume and create art are incredibly fascinating. So, with that in mind let me tell you more than you probably want or need to know about finstas.

The finsta, or fake insta, is an Instagram phenomenon in which a person creates an alternate Instagram account to be followed by close friends. This account is generally private and contains more posts and fewer followers than a person’s main account.

The finsta’s primary function (as I have observed) is to present a less polished, unfiltered media persona to a public. This public is usually made up of the users’ contemporaries, omitting parents, older family members, and authority figures. The finstas I follow are comprised of photos and videos of “illicit activities”(things you might get in trouble if a boss or parent saw), unflattering selfies, drawn out rants complaining about a job or other person, and intensely personal admissions or other content reminiscent of a diary entry. The finsta shows the person behind the mask of easily searchable main accounts. In a finsta one is allowed to be messy, sad, angry, and imperfect. There is no conformation to the unspoken rules of social media: don’t post too often, have a witty caption, don’t over edit a photo, keep a consistent aesthetic etc.

But why does it exist? The finsta seems to make obvious the thing we don’t say about social media: the online persona you cultivate is not a holistic version of you. Social media is an extension of self that has been polished, spell checked, and twisted and turned in front of mirrors and under microscopes. I am not the person I claim to be on Instagram. Of course, I’m not lying either. My social media accounts allow me to project the person I want others to see in me. It is Me 2.0.

Those in my generation pay this idea lip service, maintaining, correctly, that the internet is more complex than the insidious parasite some make it out to be. But we know that social media does not breed total honesty. And in truth, this is only a new medium for editing the self. Before social media people had public and private personas; they just weren’t laid out as concretely as they are now. We all fudge the truth to make good first impressions. We all censor ourselves around potential partners, bosses, and friends. We’re never as cool as we pretend to be.

But the finsta provides a challenge. Here it is acceptable to be emotionally vulnerable and honest and all over the place in a truly human way. Here we present ourselves to the chosen few.

I took a media class last semester in which we had a lengthy discussion about finstas. My professor admitted that she didn’t really understand the appeal or even know what a finsta was used for. The story came out in pieces as my classmates shared what they and those around them used the accounts to do and why they found them valuable. To me, the finsta makes perfect sense. My generation has grown up with social media. We have been trained to use it in a certain way. It is a tool to market yourself and like any tool it has correct and incorrect uses. The people who did not grow up with social media approach it from a place of detached curiosity. My dad doesn’t know the “rules of Instagram” and doesn’t care to follow them. He just wants his friends to see a picture of my sister’s graduation or a shot of our dog. The packaging doesn’t matter. Social media is not ubiquitous in these users’ lives.

I’m very happy that finstas are a thing. I’m happy that honesty, insecurity, and emotion are becoming more acceptable online. I like getting to know people in a more sincere way.

This has probably been said too much, but I think it’s important to remember that no one is as happy and popular and successful as they make themself out to be online. As someone who has dealt with mental health and self-esteem issues I know that it is easy to compare yourself to the candy coated images you see on the internet. It is easy to feel inadequate and alone. But you aren’t. For all the good social media can do you must keep it in its place.

I’m not naive. I know that finstas have their filters too. In a way we edit everything we do. But in an increasingly connected world we deserve to connect our ideas and emotions and dumb photos of ourselves to those of others.

So keep on posting those pictures of makeup you’re not confident enough to wear outside of your bedroom yet. Tell me when you’re lonely. Play me the song you just wrote. Keep on ranting about your dumb class or annoying job. I want to know you, not just the you who eats pretty food with pretty people. Thanks for accepting my follow request.

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