Names changed to protect identity*
Two strangers approached junior Elizabeth Brown* on the fourth day of school, raving about one of her recent Finsta posts.
“I barely knew them, but I guess I trusted them enough to follow my Finsta,” Brown said. “Basically, the rants I post [on my Finsta] about how hard my life is make other people laugh.”
Somewhere between the generational hijak of Instagram and the rise of Snapchat, a virtual phenomenon was born. The portmanteau of “fake” and “Instagram” was established: Finsta.
The word has yet to earn its place in Merriam-Webster, but Urban Dictionary defines it as, “A fake Instagram account, so one can post ratchet pictures without persecution from sororities, jobs and society as a whole.” The trend primarily rose from just two minuscule words of the 20-word definition: “without persecution.”
According to Brown, the concept is simple. The quinoa salad you had for lunch? Insta it. A selfie of you hungover eating pizza? Finsta it. Gelato in Rome? Insta it. Shotgunning a beer on the coast of Italy? Finsta it. A trip to a museum? Insta it. Chipped your tooth after too many shots and went to the hospital? Finsta it. Get the gist?
East definitely gets the gist: in a survey conducted regarding its prevalence in East, 424 out of 469 people said they knew of someone with a Finsta account. 206 out of 442 people said they personally own a fake account.
Brown has been an avid Finsta user since she joined in Feb. of 2016. Aside from her original Finsta account with nearly 360 followers and 263 posts, she has made a second, more “exclusive” one with only 202 followers. With a combined number of nearly 600 followers, she is often praised about her posts by her peers – as well as complete strangers.
As the Finsta trend grows, so do the number of followers that aren’t necessarily close or loyal to the account owner. This becomes an issue particularly with third party sites, such as Facebook, Twitter and Google that may display posts that are in a private account. According to the Instagram Help Center for Privacy and Safety, Instagram may share user content and information with businesses that are legally part of the same group of companies that Instagram is a part of.
Brown, who uses her fake accounts to share mainly memes, selfies of her and her friends drinking or videos of her “juuling,” has seen much worse content via her finsta feed. One of the more explicit posts she has seen was a selfie of a girl she followed, half-naked in a mirror, captioned, “can’t let you forget I’m a #slut.”
Brown wasn’t planning on creating a second Finsta account until her parents found her primary one, forcing her to delete posts they deemed inappropriate. Some of her posts have even caused her parents to lose trust in her, but she doesn’t see why they care. The account is private.
“If they found my other [account] I would be dead,” Brown said. “They would ground me in a heartbeat and send me to boarding school.”
Instagram’s official recommendation is to never share something you wouldn’t want other people seeing, even if you feel like you trust the person asking you to share. Your images may appear in Google search results if your account is accessed using a web viewer, which authorizes the web viewer to access your profile and images. Images from your account can also show up on third party sites through screenshotting – which is completely out of the account owner’s control.
However, even though users like Brown claim they are conservative with the quantity of followers, the quality of the followers remains in question. Senior Ashley Jones* chooses to keep her account private, with only 75 followers. She does not want her Finsta account to affect her college acceptance or sorority recruitment. She is often appalled at the type of material she scrolls by on her feed.
“Some people use it as a rant account to be like ‘listen to what this b–– did’ or to be like ‘look at what drug I did this weekend,’” Jones said. “I’ve even seen people post pictures to brag about getting arrested.”
To Jones, the concept of having a Finsta account with 200 plus followers that are “close and loyal friends” is impossible. With posts that she considers private, she doesn’t want strangers seeing them. And while posts from Finsta accounts may not always appear on third party websites like Facebook or Twitter or Google, she doesn’t want her private life screenshotted and sent around in group chats.
Meanwhile, the virtual underground world of Finsta is gaining more traffic. According to child psychologist Caroline Danda, the motive behind these posts for teens is freedom. As more parents are “friending,” “following” and “double-tapping,” the allure for teens to use traditional forms of social media is declining. Platforms once synonymous with freedom became constrained with oversight.
The logic behind Finsta and what it stands for can be somewhat confusing to adults who didn’t grow up sharing photos instantaneously on social media. Principal John McKinney, who doubles as a father, believes social media can be a positive thing – when used correctly. He thinks that the trust between child and parent pertaining to social media should be steady until there is a reason for the trust to be broken.
While McKinney is aware of the Finsta trend, he does not see a problem with it unless the posts are not morally correct. While the school does play a role in helping students stay safe on the internet, he hopes the conversation starts at home.
“We have so little understanding of what is actually accessible by someone who is determined or has the wherewithal to your Finsta account or your Snapchat posts or things you think are private,” McKinney said. “We sort of take the word private for granted. The posts are going somewhere.”
Teenagers use clever, “punny” usernames to create their alternate personas. Yet, according to Danda, even though these accounts are referred to as “jokes” and “fake”, they are rather a raw, unfiltered image of the owner.
“Finsta is quite ironic,” Danda said. “Teens refer to it as their ‘fake’ account, but their real Instagram is the fake image they give off to society.”
Yet, to both Brown and Jones, the photos posted on Finsta accounts are still looking for shared romanticization, reassurance and validation, even on what should be happening in private. As Finsta grows, the posts are becoming more explicit – while the true privacy of the trend is declining.