For a period of time in 2016, a lot of people would ask me if my Instagram (which, at the time, had the handle @sad__venmo) was a finsta. I was feeling unsettled in my personal life, and I started posting eclectic photos with non-sequitur captions. Within these posts were snippets of honesty: crying in public places, eating meat again after a year of vegetarianism, debating the logical nature of the sentence, “Every organization is either the government or an NGO.”
But it wasn’t a “finsta,” or fake Instagram. I was just posting what I wanted to post.
Finstas are almost always secondary, private accounts in which users post images for a much smaller audience than on their “rinstas,” or regular/real instas. If you search the term online, you will mostly find news sources like USA Today and The Guardian telling parents to be cautious of teen behavior on social media. They warn that these accounts, with privacy settings that require users to approve followers, can become vessels for bullying and exclusivity. In September 2016, a contributor for the Huffington Post added fuel to the parental fire. “Originally born from the desire to carve out a space free from nosy parents, finstas have morphed into a malicious animal capable of reducing even the most well-adjusted and mentally healthy teens to rubble.”
Another debate online about finstas involves the complex nature of having multiple accounts: what does it mean that one is considered fake and one is considered real? Despite the fact that it is in the name itself, finsta users at Tufts do not see their accounts as “fake”—rather, they are different spheres where they can choose what exactly they want to share, free from any expectations.
Sophomore Leo Mandani says of his finsta, “It’s definitely real. My rinsta is cherry picked experiences. My finstas are more of stream of consciousness. I don’t hide anything there.” He went on to say that public Instagram accounts are more of a facade, and really only serve to show nice and aesthetically pleasing photos.
First-year Colin Carroll echoes this, calling his rinsta a “safe image” that he would be comfortable with a future employer seeing. But that’s not to say that his finsta is wildly risqué. “Some [posts] are self deprecating humor, some photos are just screenshots of my general thoughts on a topic. Some are satire. Some posts are just bizarre, or inside jokes. It’s a lot of stuff that people who aren’t my close friends would not understand.” Carroll reiterated to me several times that his posts are not inappropriate, contrary to the fact that people expect finsta posts to be raunchy.
Brie Gates, a sophomore who is an active finsta user, says she expects all finstas to be way juicier than their rinsta counterparts. “There are normally memes and posts about struggling with school. Also, depending on the person, I generally expect to hear about their sex lives.”
Despite their reputation for dirt and drama, finstas do not have the same performative quality that rinstas do. Finstas, as a form, exist in spite of and because of the way we use rinstas, and this largely has to do with audience. Sophomore Erica Nork carefully curates her finsta followers, so much so that it took time before she allowed anyone from Tufts to follow the finsta.
“Right now, I have about 15 followers. Usually it’s people who Jane Austen would call ‘bosom friends:’ people who I think see me complexly, or would want to see me for all that I am, or maybe are interested in the way that I see the world. But they are still a somewhat unpredictable audience.”
Jesse Greenfield agrees with Nork. “My finsta is primarily for my friends from back home that I’ve deemed important enough to get these updates on my life. I’ve let a couple Tufts people follow it, but these folks are carefully selected for their trustworthiness.”
But the more followers a user gains on finsta, the less distinctive it becomes from a rinsta. Mandani, for example, has two finstas: one where he posts almost daily, and the other with fewer followers where he only posts about once or twice a month.
Even with a handpicked audience, Nork still feels as though she must censor herself. She sometimes talks about drugs and alcohol, rarely talks about sexual experiences, and never discusses mental health. “I don’t want to keep that in this record of my life if it has already colored so much of my experience of being alive.”
I can recall a late night at Tisch during finals where my best friend sat next to me and deleted all 150 followers from his finsta. He was caught in a bind: there were too many people that he didn’t trust following his finsta, so he couldn’t be completely honest, but he felt too guilty to block people individually. When I asked him why he couldn’t just delete his account, he shrugged. “It’s for the archive.”
When I posted a photo of myself on my rinsta in the reading room bathroom after crying because I didn’t get into the Burlesque dance I wanted to get into, I wasn’t trying to be subversive or weird. I was just being honest. Scrolling back through photos from that spring, I can see exactly what I was going through even if I was less explicit in other posts.
This made me understand what people like about their finstas: without worrying about maintaining a cool and collected image, the accounts can be archives with no holds barred. They are there for only you—and a few other people of your choosing—to see.
Nork feels that the content of her account is way more important for her than it is for other people. “Scrolling through my finsta feels so much like going through my old diaries. It feels like a time capsule as well as a sketchbook, a record that still feels very active and alive.”
If you want them to be, finstas can be conversations with your friends in the comfort of your own home. They are notes passed around the room to a select few. They are not what you want your parents or your employer or your significant other to see. But this content ranges from the smallest mishaps in your day to the most intimate details about your life, and it is hard to imagine anyone beginning to post those things publicly for the world to see.
Consider a private Instagram account. It is filled with photos and captions, confessions and secrets. There are zero followers, absolutely no one to like or comment or see anything posted. There is no incentive for likes, no interaction between people at all. It would just be a diary, completely hidden from the public eye, accessible to one person only. A tree falling in the middle of the forest without a sound. The handle @sad__venmo is up for grabs if anyone wants it.