One of the fastest growing social media trends among young adults — especially among college students — is the “finsta,” which is a combination of the words “fake” and “Insta” (as in Instagram). Basically, a finsta is a secret Instagram account that you only allow your close friends to follow. The purpose of a finsta is different for everyone; some people simply choose to post funny pictures and memes that will make their friends laugh, while others use it as a diary or as a personal bank of posts they can’t share publicly, like nudes or videos of them drunkenly singing “Call Me Maybe.”
Like many things in popular culture today, there is no one explanation of what a finsta is, but they’re chaotic, hilarious and, sometimes, brutal, because they are a digital expression of the day-to-day experiences each person is going through. All finstas have one thing in common, however: they all thrive off the concept of excluding others.
Now, I’m not here to tell you that you have to share everything with everyone; it’s good to have boundaries, and those can be different for different people. But the appeal of only sharing certain things with certain people should be the idea that those people are extra special to you, not that you want to make everyone else feel less special. The problem with most finstas is that people create them with good intentions, but unhealthy mindsets often lead them down unintended paths.
If a fake instagram is called a Finsta… Is my fake Twitter account called a Fitter?
— Brett Gray (@brettgray) April 10, 2018
The most obvious problem with finstas is the temptation to gossip, and while it’s healthy to vent and let your friends know what you’re going through, it’s another story if you’re talking smack about someone simply to hurt them. A private Instagram account is the perfect breeding ground for this: all your friends are in one place, and there’s no way for the person to find out (unless one of your friends shows it to them), which means there’s no direct consequences.
When a temptation like that is always just a few clicks away, it can be easy to start writing things that we’ll regret later. We’re taught that gossip is the devil’s telephone, but when that phone becomes our own, it seems fine. But is that one rant really worth going on record to trash talk a friend? Is it worth losing that friend?
Then there’s the more covert operative: a subtle jab at a friend that follows you. We all know about the subtweet, which is an angry tweet that’s directed at a particular person without actually saying their name; this is its evil cousin. When we’re upset, we tend to lose our inhibitions and do things we wouldn’t normally do.
You might lash out at a person you care a lot about, and even if you try to keep some sort of peace by not calling them out directly, it’s usually pretty obvious who you’re talking about — and it’s important to remember that they can see it. Doing this on a finsta is worse than a subtweet, to some extent, because only a handful of people will know about it, and you won’t be held accountable by the public, which makes it that much easier to say something nasty.
However, the greatest reason not to make a finsta is the numbers game. Just like with any social media, it’s easy to compare your account to others’, and you might find yourself asking questions like: “Why doesn’t she follow me back? Why can’t I follow him? Why do they comment on her pictures and not mine?”
Suddenly, you’re in a spiral, counting likes, scrolling through other people’s accounts and wondering what you did wrong. You might even try amping it up, making a special effort to lament every little inconvenience in an attempt to outdo everyone else’s finstas, but the end result will only be that you’ve made yourself miserable over nothing.
You’re not alone in this because, chances are, everyone else is doing the same thing. While you’re sinking into insecurity, your friends are probably feeling exactly what you are, only wondering why you didn’t like their posts instead of the other way around.
Your finsta will reach a point where it just creates unnecessary tension and gets you worked up for no reason, which can be especially damaging to people with mental health issues, like depression and anxiety; it turns something that was originally meant to make them feel better into something that makes them feel so much worse.
The general theme here is that a finsta takes something that occurs on other platforms (or in real life) and amps it up tenfold. This is because, with a finsta, you’re given a false sense of privacy, similar to the way that, in middle school, websites like ask.fm let us say things to each other that we would never say in real life, under the guise of anonymity. Like I said before, when we tell ourselves that no one will see something, we feel freer to speak openly or to speak unkindly.
But the reality is that people probably will see what you say, because finstas are hard to keep hidden, and sometimes you secretly do want certain people to see what you write about them. Whether you like it or not, the internet really is forever, and even if you delete something, your words are still etched into the hearts of those you hurt, and those likes (or lack thereof) that you wasted your time obsessing over still took a toll on your mental health.
The finsta just feels like the next generation of toxic clique-formation that we all should have left behind in high school. We’re in college now; let’s move on from all the drama and just talk about our feelings with our friends in person, in an open and honest manner. Or maybe we should just go see a therapist.