Students use finstas to find privacy

by Kyle Labe / Beacon Correspondent • February 22, 2017

Eliot Lee uses his finsta to post photos of his celebrity crushes.
Eliot Lee uses his finsta to post photos of his celebrity crushes.

It all began with a photo of her friend, a playful quip about the Emerson soccer team, and a declaration that she wouldn’t post again. One day later, she broke that promise.

Izzy Kantz never imagined she’d start a finsta—or “fake Instagram”—account. She thought it was unnecessary and disappointing that people felt they could only express themselves to a select few people through a private account, rather than show it to everyone publicly. Then Kantz, a freshman marketing communications major, began to juggle the idea of getting a finsta when they grew so popular. She finally caved in order to keep in touch with friends back home.

Finstas are alternative Instagram accounts where users tend to post more humorous, risqué, or embarrassing posts. They’re the flipside to users’ rinstas (“real Instagrams”), and typically are private to allow only a limited number of followers, usually consisting of close friends.

Kantz’s first post was back in October, and she was wary about posting another. Every now and then she’d share a random photo of a friend. Now she posts almost daily.

“[People] still want to be their crazy, embarrassing selves, but we don’t want to have that out in the open for everyone to see,” Kantz said. “So we need a place to put that, and that’s why I think people have finstas. That’s why I have mine.”

Finstas have existed since the start of Instagram, but have only recently grown into an internet phenomena. Google Trends shows that the term “finsta” earned overwhelming popularity in 2016, compared to previous years. Many teenagers are expected to have one nowadays. They challenge the social norms and expectations of the rinsta, and directly respond to the perceived artificiality that has taken over Instagram.

Eliot Lee is a freshman visual and media arts major who uses his finsta to post photos of his celebrity crushes.

“When I first heard of finsta, people described it as a place where you post the photos you wouldn’t on your rinsta,” Lee said. “I definitely think the finsta can be a response to Instagram’s superficiality.”

Finstas are supposed to be a rebellion against flawless internet personas and sepia-toned lifestyles. A study from the Pew Research Center showed that 92 percent of teenagers go online daily and a little over half of those (52 percent) use Instagram as a main platform. If Instagram serves as a blockbuster film, finstas seem to be the cult classic.

Like many others, freshman writing, literature, and publishing major Natalie Frantz has two finstas: one personal, and another shared with her roommates.

“Our culture is absolutely too obsessed with Instagram,” she said. “Everyone always eventually thinks about what other people think, no matter what. I think having a finsta is fun.”

Many writers argue that millennials have become too consumed by social networking. Feeds have become washed out with model-esque photographs, featuring aesthetically pleasing shots with friends, destinations, food, and pets. They’re all filtered and cropped to the ideal angle and the perfect color scheme.

“We’re so worried about getting judged,” Kantz said. “And we wouldn’t want to post embarrassing or stupid stuff on our rinstas, because we wouldn’t get as many likes or it wouldn’t be a pretty picture.”

But not everyone is a part of this finsta fad. Nic Sugrue, a freshman business and creative enterprises major, said he’s noticed a change to finstas as they rise in popularity.

“I think [finstas] started out as a response [to Instagram],” he said, “But most of it now is just a forced attempt at a ‘ha ha’ or scandal.”

Instagram is already flooded with humor and meme accounts that gather thousands of followers on their own. As finstas grow exponentially in popularity, some users worry that they too may grow to be half-hearted attempts at humor, in order to make their followers laugh.

Claire Foley, a freshman political communications major, used to have multiple active finstas, but now only shares one with a friend from back home. They’ve completed an entire paper on finsta culture, where they observed why people were using finstas and whether or not it was beneficial.

“I hate everything about my finsta now; it used to be emotional support with some close friends. When I look back on those posts I cringe,” Foley said. “There’s nothing inherently wrong with them, but it’s just such a meaningless format of expressing this stuff.”

Because Instagram culture seems so obsessed with the polish of perfect pictures, it shouldn’t come as a surprise that certain users have garnered fame from their accounts. It’s not even high-profile celebrities like Selena Gomez or Kylie Jenner, who have two of the most followed accounts on the platform. It’s everyday people who post everyday photos. Some are models (Mimi Elashiry), others travellers (Sam Horine), and some are just couples (Nataly and Murad Osmann).

These “Insta-famous” celebrities sometimes make piles of money simply by posting a selfie. Companies pay hundreds of dollars for product placement in photos posted to these large audiences. It’s good advertising—the pictures can rack up tens of thousands of likes and comments. Take Gabrielle Epstein, an Instagram model who’s earned about 1.6 million followers. In a viral video last year, Epstein confessed that she makes more money from posting one selfie than from four days of work as a model.

Many argue that this has led to the superficiality of Instagram, that these accounts have created unrealistic expectations for what people should, and should not post on their Instagram accounts. Researchers from Pace University found a link between depression and the number of strangers teenagers follow on Instagram. It showed that most teenagers think their own social media account is a burden, and that it doesn’t show their most authentic self.

Maybe that’s why so many users are turning to finstas. To many, they can be a safe space to truly express this most authentic self—and to choose who sees it.

Helen Ren is a freshman visual and media arts major who has two Instagram accounts―but she doesn’t call either of them a finsta.

“I think the artificiality comes from the people on Instagram who make money,” she said., “It’s really hard for almost anything nowadays to be completely not related to money.”

Ren, like many, feels that Instagram can be a means to promote her art. She likes to publish her photography through the app, because of its filters and easy access for others to see. As the editorial board from artsy.net elaborates, many artists post their art through Instagram for the gratification of likes. This social validation may be a catalyst to continue with their passion.

Last week, the Beacon reported that many Emerson students use Instagram as an art form. Some users apply the aesthetic platform Instagram provides as a medium to display their artistic identity.

Except many finsta users don’t feel that way. Most feel that they can post whatever they want on their finstas, whenever they want, without the fear of judgment or humiliation they would on their rinsta.

“I don’t think there’s an issue that people don’t want to post these things on their Instagrams,” Ren said, “Everybody wants some privacy. We share different stuff with different people. That’s natural.”