It should come as no surprise that social media users represent themselves differently on each platform. Instagram, in particular, allows users to visually cultivate their own personal brand, a unique identity that depicts their best selves. When searched by peers, parents, and employers, the image seen is the one you want to be associated with. The tradeoff of this picture perfection is a loss of authenticity, often deliberate: knowing a future boss, for instance, could be reading our posts can have a chilling effect. So what can we do if we still need a space to be our real selves?
We create a finsta.
Finstas— a combination of the words “fake” and “Instagram”—are sort of like Instagram “shadow accounts,” where people can post content that doesn’t follow the unspoken rules of what the social world considers a “successful” Instagram profile. Finstas are not about the likes but about the ability to be relatable. The photo is accompanied by more text than usual recounting details of events that can range from a wild night out to a failed exam to a bad first date. The content can be intimate and definitely not for public consumption. But the goal is not to be found by others or amass hundreds of follows. Only a selected handful of trusted friends are granted access to someone’s finsta. The exclusivity and ability to stray from the norms on Instagram are the real drivers of the finsta fascination. (It’s ironic that these so-called “fake” accounts are where people can feel most free to be real.)
So that one stunning photo out of 30+ from the beach? the one with the radiant lighting, that shows your good side, and that soft smile, and that perfect pose? Edit to remove shine, brighten teeth, change eye color…add a simple yet vague caption like “Perfect Day” or an 😎 emoji, and it’s ready for Instagram.
The photo you want for your finsta is not that one. It’s the one when that huge wave knocked you off your feet and put you on the ground. You were sunburned, sandy, eyes half closed, with hair flying in all directions. The caption: a complete and detailed retelling how that was one of many #fails of the day.
What does the popularity of finstas mean for other social platforms? Will users soon have two versions of Facebook or Snapchat: one for family and distant friends, the other for a more exclusive group of people? Instagram has been successful in taking on the finsta crowd by making it easy to toggle back and forth between accounts. Other platforms may not be so accommodating.
Social media users will continue to seek out authenticity. Snapchat used to fill the void partly by the inability to edit content, and partly by being a platform for an intimate group of followers. However, in recent years as Snapchat has grown in popularity and it too has become yet another compliment to the cultivation of your best personal brand. But Snapchat content is ephemeral, and users who craved realness and permanence wanted something more, and created the finsta.
Thinking bigger picture: Why is there a need for separating our “authentic” and “best” selves in the first place? It’s human nature to want to appear smart, confident, and happy. But perfection is a hard standard to maintain. Even as we present ourselves to the world as that soft-focus Instagram photo, we know we’re really more like the out-of-focus finsta shot because we are all human. With all these hidden finsta accounts, we just don’t realize that everybody else feels the exact same way.
Be social. Stay social. #UMSocial
Post written by Julia Ross