“Follow my finsta!” instructed a text from my sister, a senior in high school, yesterday.
What is a “finsta?” you may ask. It’s a combination of the words “fake” and “Insta,” and it denotes an Instagram account, separate from what users of the platform consider their “real” accounts. Finstas mainly consist of jokes: funny selfies, less-than-aesthetically-pleasing images, and the like. They usually contain punny names, silly bios, and a collection of seemingly unedited, humorous pictures and videos.
I consider myself what one might call “anti-finsta.” The way I see it, you might as well post on one account all the photos you want to share on social media. Why split it in two?
But my sister Frances sees it differently, and, oddly enough, her way actually makes some sense. “You don’t finsta stuff you would Instagram,” she explained. (Yes, “finsta” is a verb now.) “It’s joke stuff.”
She went on to align posting a picture on Instagram with having a conversation: “It’s normal to present yourself differently to your close friends than to 700 people.”
I couldn’t help but notice the way she used the word “present,” and it got me thinking about a topic that is definitely not under-discussed, but that I think is nonetheless crucial to our understanding of modern society: the role of social media in our personal relationships.
Accounts on platforms like Instagram, Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, and others are just these presentations. But what happens when people start divvying up these presentations into disparate pieces that reveal different sides of their personalities? (Or, arguably, different personae altogether?) Is anything authentic now that we’ve parceled out various faces for ourselves, one funny and informal, the other “more official” and “prettier?” And I can’t help but wonder what comes next: Do we have different accounts for each type of person we want to be?
What confounds me primarily about the idea of a finstagram is that to look at anyone’s account, you’d think you’re getting a glimpse into a more truthful version of their life than you’re getting in their primary account. Its name is sort of misleading, because the word “fake” is actually the opposite of what a finsta portrays itself as. It’s less polished, less edited, less constructed…or so it would seem.
In certain respects, finstas are equally as false as users’ primary accounts. They’re photos that have been selected from a photo stream and attached to (usually) well thought-out captions that, while perhaps less formal than captions in “real” Instagram accounts, still aim to purport certain qualities of the poster (usually funniness). What borders on dangerous is that they also purport to be more authentic, when in reality, they’re just as false as any other social media account.
The authenticity of social media accounts is an issue I first became aware of in the wake of Madison Holleran’s suicide. The Penn student and track star Instagrammed a stunning photo of Rittenhouse Square in Philadelphia an hour before leaping to her death from the top of a parking garage, and her family and friends frequently recalled her confusion at her own stress and anxiety in comparison with her friends’ social media pictures, which depicted seemingly perfect lives. I think this is what my main issue with finstas is, because they only add to the accumulation of false representations of ourselves; not only can we make our lives look pretty and fun in our real accounts, but now we can depict ourselves as funny and “unfiltered” as well.
An alternate way of looking at it, however, is through a lens that doesn’t involve authenticity at all, as my sister sees it.
“Your real account isn’t unauthentic,” she explains. “It’s just more tailored toward the general public. The finsta is an outlet to show your closer friends things that they would only find funny, which isn’t more authentic, it’s just tailored toward your close friends.”
When I asked her if she feels the fact that finsta posts are only meant to be viewed by close friends implicitly renders them more authentic, she hesitated, but ultimately agreed.
“It’s the same as how you present yourself in the real world. You’re more real with your closer friends, I guess, because when you get to know someone better, you’re more honest and authentic with them.”
The relationship between real life and social media, however, becomes even more complex when you consider the impulsivity that these platforms can often encourage. While I was arguing that all Instagram accounts, finsta or other, were filtered versions of their posters’ lives, my sister came to an opposite conclusion: that since we aren’t physically in front of those who see our posts, we are actually less filtered on all social media platforms than in real life.
“Say there are 700 people following you on Instagram,” she proposed. “If you were standing onstage in front of 700 people, you probably would be more filtered than you would on your real Instagram account with 700 followers. So I guess you’re less filtered on social media than if you really thought about how many people were seeing it.”
So we’d ended up at two completely opposite ends of the spectrum on authenticity and social media. On the one hand, I was proposing that everything we do on these platforms is falsely constructed, and that an account posing as more real (despite that its name involves the word “fake”) is actually a somewhat worrying idea, since it’s just as filtered as any other account. But she was contending that in a way, we’re actually more authentic since when we post on social media, we can’t see our audience.
So who’s right? Realistically, I think we both are. In some respects, we’re more honest when we blindly or impulsively share a status or picture, but in others, we construct these posts to create a certain image of ourselves that we want to promote, whether it’s that we’re happy, pretty, funny, or hard-working, successful, etc. I think what’s important in the end is that we keep both these phenomena in mind when we peruse feeds, and maintain the mindset that there’s no way of knowing what’s behind each post, whether it was written in a moment of impulse or intentionally edited to project a less-than-true image of its creator.
Cohen is a member of the class of 2018.