There is no shortage of rhetoric on the authenticity — or lack thereof — of social media. And no social media platform better reflects this claim than Instagram: an app in which image is quite literally everything. So what does the emergence of the cultural phenomenon of a “Finstagram” reveal about the changing ways in which we interact with social media and with each other?
Finstagram — a portmanteau of the words “fake” and ”Instagram” — is a private, secondary Instagram account in which users, armed with a pseudonym and a camera, share the inappropriate, the mundane and the funny aspects of their lives to a small group of carefully selected followers. While Finstagram is neither its own own app nor officially recognized by Instagram in any way, this category of account is its own distinct microcosm, with etiquette and social norms that starkly contrast those of its namesake. Finstagram accounts exist as the countercultural anti-Instagram — creating an alternate universe in which embarrassing photos replace posed “candids” and intimate details of one’s sexual or drunken exploits replace emoji-ladened professions proclaiming:“Low quality pic, high quality people.”
“It is a place where you can post whatever you want for a select group of people and not have to worry about the consequences of the public image that you usually have to worry about on regular Instagram,” explains Molly O’Mera, a student at DePaul University.
This secret society of sorts exists unknown to the uninitiated, as the nature of these accounts are private. Creators carefully curate those who have access to the often deeply personal content, pictures and video shared perhaps because of our generation’s increased tendency to publicize what was once considered personal. This exclusivity appears to mirror that of Greek life, which, not coincidentally, is the community at UC Berkeley where this trend is most prevalent.
“Finstagrams are mostly dominated by Greek life because that’s the group of people that usually go out and party … even for the posts that are not necessarily party-related, I think it still has a lot to do with inside jokes and being part of this exclusive community.” says Cathy Pham-Lee, a freshman at UC Berkeley who is not a member of Greek organizations on campus.
Finstagram accounts exist as the countercultural anti-Instagram — creating an alternate universe in which embarrassing photos replace posed “candids” and intimate details of one’s sexual or drunken exploits replace emoji-ladened professions proclaiming:“Low quality pic, high quality people.”
“I’d say a good amount of girls in Greek life have a Finsta. Also, some of the pictures you’d probably post are from Greek life events,” says Elizabeth Knapp, a freshman at UC Berkeley and member of Delta Gamma, a Panhellenic sorority.
This is a relatively new trend: The first Google searches of the word “Finstagram” appeared in June 2013 and only spiked in search popularity as recently as November 2015, after an article published by the New York Times brought this underground movement to light. But while the Finstagram is a phenomenon that has risen in popularity and usage only recently, the motivation behind it may not be. “I don’t think it’s really anything new,” said Josh Jackson, a campus lecturer of media studies. “The problem is that on social media platforms, you have an audience that’s potentially larger than you have out there in the world … and you’re performing an identity for potentially all of them to consume.” While in everyday life we rarely find ourselves simultaneously in the presence of distant relatives, high school friends and college classmates, in the realm of social media this is a common occurrence. But unlike on Facebook, where a multitude of privacy functions allow one to restrict or promote different people access to different kinds of content, on Instagram, the choices are twofold: public or private. “What’s interesting about Instagram is that people are managing multiple aspects of their identity through multiple accounts on a single platform, instead of editing the permissions and access to their content, (or) using different social media platforms to speak to different groups.” So, are Finstagrams simply the result of Instagram’s binary privacy settings, or are they a reflection of something more?
While the Finstagram is a phenomenon with falsehood in its very name, users consistently report feeling that their fake Instagram is their more authentic account. “I’m definitely more authentic on my Finstagram. Real Instagram is more of the image I want the world to see and less of the image I actually see myself as.” O’Mera says. Free from the scrutiny of mutual friends and strangers, Finstagram’s limited access provides a haven from the polished image most want to put out into the world on their “real” Instagram account.
This is not to say that Instagram is alone in perpetuating caricatured personas of those who use it. Finstagrammers, too, take on warped alter egos. Often with the help of liquid courage, they exhibit only their wildest, weirdest, silliest or most scandalous moments, with the knowledge that this is what audiences expect. Unlike its more aesthetic counterpart, the Finstagram’s social economy adopts humor as its main form of currency, placing a greater emphasis on captions that can be up to paragraphs in length. While Instagram posts are often painstakingly thought-out, Finstagram posts are described as spontaneous or random, with content not unprecedented, but rather “similar to what (one) might post on their Snapchat story when they go out to a party,” Knapp says, but with the added element of a permanence lasting more than 24 hours. It seems strange that a prefix of F is the only difference standing between hours agonizing over which filter to use and that photo from last weekend of you peeing in a bush, but this is the reality of Finstagram’s power.
Does the possession of these two incongruous accounts prove to be a case of social media multiple personality disorder, or is it an attempt to better share the multidimensional nature of our lives, even if only to the select few we allow in?
These stark contrasts can make Instagram and Finstagram accounts often feel like the tale of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Paradoxical nomenclature aside, does the possession of these two incongruous accounts prove to be a case of social media multiple personality disorder, or is it an attempt to better share the multidimensional nature of our lives, even if only to the select few we allow in? Jackson believes so. “In real life, we have multiple identities, we have multiple personas that we adopt at different times and with different people, and so, in that way, having a single identity on Facebook or Instagram seems like it’s unnatural. It’s not fake to have multiple identities — that’s just a reflection of how we operate in the world. … You wouldn’t call someone inauthentic because they’re interacting with their grandparents in a way that’s different from their roommates,” he said.
Jackson proposes that the idea of a singular authenticity in your social media persona is one pedaled by the platform itself for its own economic gain. “Social media platforms want you to have a single stable identity so that they can better understand you and target you with advertising messages,” he says. In this case, the Finstagram could either be the start of a revolution against pressure from social media platforms to be one-dimensional or a further reinforcement of the idea that to be two-dimensional, you’ll need two accounts. According to Jackson, it may be both. “Creating a separate account is a rejection of (having) one identity, but then (again), labeling your public account as fake or more authentic, or your private account as fake or more authentic is a way of conforming to what Instagram wants.”
By falsifying and verifying accounts in name, we falsify and verify two parts of ourselves. Instagram wants users to think of these dualistic identities as mutually exclusive: One must be false if the other is true. But, in actuality, Finstagram and Instagram represent the symbiotic dichotomy that exists in us all, and while embracing this may not serve Instagram’s highly targeted advertising, it certainly serves ourselves. So let us continue our Instagram upheaval, whether or not it’s prefixed with an F.
But then again, does a Finstagram by any other name smell as sweet?
Contact Sara Suhl at [email protected]