“The selection process is mostly your close friends or anyone who you trust to see not-so-nice photos of yourself.” Emily* is an 18-year-old girl who loves Facebook and Instagram. She’s been on social media for most of her teen years, and enjoys scrolling Instagram for funny videos and photos her friends post.
Emily is acting as my guide to one trend on the photo-sharing app which is previously unchartered territory for me: Finstagrams.
A ‘Finstagram’, or fake Instagram for the uninitiated, is a private Instagram account run alongside with the user’s public account. The difference between the two is that the ‘Finsta’ is a much more liberated space where posting is more frequent and less filtered. Emily explains: “a few of my friends do to kind of spam with pictures that they may not want everyone to see so it’s more like Snapchat in that way as you post way more.”
16-year-old Matt* is another teen offering me insight into the phenomenon. He agrees with Emily that the emphasis with ‘Finstas’ is on spamming. “More teenagers are starting second accounts because they want to “shitpost”, or in other words, post whatever they want without having to worry about people judging their public account.”
The user will post unflattering and funny photos of themselves, screenshots of text conversations and screenshots of their Snapchat posts. For those of us more accustomed to carefully selecting, editing and wittily captioning our posts, this idea of mass-posting purposefully self-deprecating content is intriguing. The privacy settings allow them to carefully control who sees this more honest content, keeping them safe from the scrutiny of family, teachers and even fellow classmates.
Dr. Claire Halsey is a child psychologist and author with a wealth of experience as a parenting expert. Claire suggested that the private account enables users to “show the whole range” of their emotional experiences. Referring to on ‘Finsta’ trend, that of posting a photo of yourself crying, Claire put it down to a desire to be honest. “You get a chance to have a down day”, Claire told me, “none of us are permanently happy and upbeat, and especially with our friends we don’t want to be fake.” She echoes Emily’s idea of it being a sign of trust, because you have to choose your followers carefully. She recognises the importance of being able to represent all facets of a personality, and ‘Finstas’ enable teens to do this. Hear all of Claire’s comments below.
Megan* is a teacher at an all-girls primary school in London. Social media is hugely prominent in her daily experiences as a teacher to a group of 10 and 11 year-old girls. She is unsurprised by this growing trend of second accounts. “I constantly hear girls talking about people they follow on Instagram or Snapchats they’ve sent each other.”
Megan identifies the allure of the private accounts as providing a sense of freedom of expression. “In the same way as adults, I think many of the girls probably feel that they can be someone who they are not over social media and say or post things which they would not say or do in day to day life.” She has hit upon one of the most important elements of Finstagrams: the fact that it allows for a more authentic approach to social media.
Starting a conversation
This liberating quality is something that many commentators have identified as the most positive aspect of ‘Finstas’. As Matt puts it, “it allows teenagers to post whatever they want without having to worry about the repercussions of posting it on a public profile.” It enables teens to express themselves without fear of judgement because they have total control over who sees each post.
Dr. John Potter is a Reader in Media in Education at the UCL Knowledge Lab, and defines Instagram as “a visual CV, a face to show the world as part of the overall curation of the self.” John spoke with me about the way that these different accounts build on a sort of personal curation over social media. “It’s exciting to be playful with identity and assumptions and social media are a great playground for this.” This compounds what both Megan and Matt have also told me about the freedom that comes with cultivating your personality across different accounts.
John also brought into consideration the idea that this freedom is intrinsically linked to the idea of wanting to regain a sense of control over social media. “Finstas are arguably an attempt to regain the control of the platform for personal use.” The incredibly public and performative nature of the app has rendered it a much more pressurised space. A second account takes back some semblance of privacy, whilst still remaining in the loop.
Opinions about second accounts are, as always, mixed. Many users extol the virtues of their second account as a means of enabling them to be more authentic – this being the main irony of the ‘fake’ Instagrams. However others feel this is excessive and consider it a sign of users over-thinking their social media presence.
Can I just make my Instagram into a finstagram? Bc we all take ourselves too seriously
— Kaia Mendenhall (@KaiaMendenhall) 20 March 2017
i’ve taken it into consideration and i think finstagram is the home run of social media
— Olivia Rood (@oliviaroood) 20 March 2017
— blaine hanchey (@itsblainesworld) February 12, 2017
— William Childs (@williamgchilds) December 16, 2016
— Bradleigh (@Bradleigh_B) November 29, 2016
As a teacher Megan has her own words of warning. She regularly has to speak to her students about the impact of their actions on social media. “I think children need to understand that the ‘cyber’ world is still the real world”, she told me, “and what they say or do on Instagram may still have consequences.” The danger, particularly in younger users, is that they might not consider the danger of someone taking a screenshot of one of their private posts, or showing it to people who do not have permission to follow these accounts. Even behind the walls of privacy settings, there is always a risk of posts becoming public.
What can we learn?
What this trend demonstrates is that teens are becoming aware of the power of social media at a younger age and are adjusting how they use it accordingly. This is in its essence simply a form of image management, something which as adults we are encouraged to cultivate. Their public persona is more carefully considered because they are becoming increasingly aware of the power and longevity of every post.
Whilst it would be naive to negate the potentially negative facets of having private accounts at a younger age, it does demonstrate the positive way in which young people are understanding the need to filter. As Dr. John Potter put it, “so long as safety, self and mutual respect are part of the conversation between carers and teens and between teens and their peers and there is a degree of trust in that discourse then social media can be positive.”
*Some names have been changed.