There was a time when some friends of mine would approach me with six (sometimes 20) portrait images of themselves among which I had to choose the best to post on Instagram. The punchline was that they all looked similar. Perhaps an unnoticeable finger flex here or a small jolt of the knee there, but still. Unnoticeable. Yet of course, I had to select the best one, because I was a friend. A few quips of “Cute” or “Average” and my job was done. Eventually, the practice stuck and I was accustomed to doing the same. Select 10 images, a quick “which one” and it was automatic— a never ending rally of “should-I-post this-or-not”.
But then there’s the finsta.
To elaborate further, finsta is the colloquial term for fake Insta, an Instagram account purposed to be more fun, casual, and private. A fun insta if you will. The finsta is often used as a “photo dump” where you get to share the less appealing pictures to a chosen crowd of a smaller volume. The rules behind the finsta are: 1) it’s essentially you but more candid, 2) it has fewer followers, and 3) it’s only meant for people you’re comfortable to be silly around. You don’t even have to use your real name. The finsta court opens its mouth to all: pictures of a mediocre meal, goofy selfies you consider too goofy, or a meme you can’t resist sharing.
I too have a finsta. Or had a finsta. The early days were fine — unflattering Photobooth snaps with friends and snippets of my lunch here and there.
A study from the University of California, Berkeley determined that 17.3% out of their survey respondents owned a finsta account, 14% of which would use the account multiple times a day while the rest would do once a day to less than once a month. All, however, provided similar rhetorics for creating the account: for close friends, funny posts that I wouldn’t want my followers to see… you get the point. I cross checked this rationale with that of my peers. First and foremost, what is the point of maintaining a finsta? Some friends argued parallel sentiments: “needed a space to rant and be myself,” “uncomfortable with posting too much on my main.” Oftentimes, people would also use the finsta to follow all the accounts they’re too ashamed to engage with back on their main profile.
The U.C. Berkeley study, entitled “Finsta: Creating “Fake” Spaces for Authentic Performance” determines that through the finsta, “people take agency over their audiences and use the platform in ways other than it’s signalled intent: the accumulation of followers and likes.”
Pathways of self esteem
As someone who was born and raised in the generation of platform exposure, I constantly toy with deleting and reinstalling social media applications every few months. Though eventually, I realized that I wasn’t addicted to social media itself but to the thrill of being someone else.
In recent years, Instagram has become the hotspot to cultivate ideal versions of ourselves, people we’ve convinced each other to become. A friend of mine maintains two other personal profiles on Instagram aside from her main account: a finsta, and a finsta for her finsta. Her argument for the latter was that the former had become too populated which, in turn, discouraged her from being her most authentic self. When asked about her preference for Instagram, she explains there are no other social media platforms that provide the same services as Instagram and/or Twitter do, where publishing content is catered to a specific and more controlled audience, while others are to be sent directly (e.g. messaging applications). Upon hearing this, my mind, once again, wandered to the urgency of sharing on social media.
A study stated that in two out of three times humans discover something new, they feel the urge to share this information. Popular science adds that the dopamine hit one gets from posting a good photo that people “like” makes social media a catalyst for a self-esteem boost. But in my mind: finstas have become counterproductive to self-esteem, the same way plastic was initially created to save paper but now it is the enemy.
Used by the same network of individuals who substitute the performativity of real Insta with the authenticity of a fake Insta, the maintenance of the finsta is somewhat of a social aphrodisiac. A study by Keith Wilcox and Andrew T. Stephen corroborates the ties between social media and users as mixed. While self-esteem is bought through the social media currency (likes, shares, comments), this is also wholly dependent on individuals whom users are concentrating their efforts on: the persons they want as direct audiences. Apart from that, the permission to be selective about one’s character tramples on the possibility of amassing self-esteem, in its truest form.
I’m not trying to disrepute the function of the finsta as a whole. My experience was not terrible to begin with. I once enjoyed holding senseless polls and posting self-deprecating memes. But eventually, I realized that it did not feel as good as it should have.
Earlier last year, I stopped using my finsta. I grew disillusioned with the idea behind the finsta by March, at the peak of my mind distress, and willingly deserted it come May. I previously convinced myself that creating one would grant me more security, one of less boundaries and more candor. But what happened instead was: the reduction of my main Insta into a performance piece. The pictures I reserved for the main account turned artificial overnight; lots of forced laughter shots and settings I had to orchestrate to look near accidental. I stopped my finger from clicking “share” on my main Instagram profile a lot of times. There was a lot of hesitation when it came to sharing. And when posting a photo that I would later come to see as a performance on the main account, the guilt that came immediately after was soothed by an escape to, and another post on my finsta. Which eventually resembled a flood.
The urge to purge is not just with me. Another friend recently undertook extreme measures for cleansing; deleting her finsta and subsequently doing a full purge of her original Instagram profile, leaving nothing but close friends and 3 pictures of her dog. When asked about why she created the finsta in the first place, she answered: “didn’t feel like posting for acquaintances.”
Raising the stakes
Personally, I always believed that the innocuous value of social media is to live truthfully in a space of our control, an environment of personal design, finsta or no finsta. But as time progressed, there was an innate impulse to level up and raise the stakes.
The incessant onboarding of users into social media platforms spawned a separate money-making industry itself. What once was considered an ancillary marketing strategy, is now bringing home $5-10 billion, with independent management departments in select companies. The social media influencer culture has also played a significant role in the thrust towards finstas. Currently, Instagram has over 1 billion users on its platform, 500,000 of which are estimated to be influencers, polishing themselves for the camera, living the seemingly perfect life, that a lot of us tried our best to do the same: influence one another. We became vulnerable to performing and critiquing. Our life ended up imprinted online. The way we turn so quickly towards social media as our means of distraction is concerning. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of social media users in the country increased by 16 million.
As the follower list for my own finsta became increasingly saturated with distant acquaintances, I felt uncomfortable, nearing suffocation. The consuming thirst to collate my life into three-rowed squares, keeping up a virtual appearance, had become mentally draining, sometimes manifesting physically through my sweaty palms. I’d be a different person in every account I logged into. Ultimately, the one existing out of the screen could no longer juggle all the me’s in one go.
It dawned upon me that I was still developing when I began putting up a show. And now I ask myself: Did I know myself enough to keep up a social media profile? The answer is no. It was no then and no still. Our relationship with social media has become so complex we’ve coiled most, if not all aspects of our lives around its branches, displaying ourselves for grabs and preconceiving content while in the midst of developing our individuality. Unknowingly, the loss of authenticity has become the by-product of the finsta despite it being seen initially as social media’s unfiltered haven.
When I finally left my finsta, the sensation of departure was new, uplifting, and somehow addicting, as though a pruned mask had finally let its grip loose from my face. Expression cannot be truthfully unveiled in a vacuum driven by external say. I haven’t deleted my finsta. But I intend for it to be nothing more than a keepsake.
I will indefinitely ask the same question: Do I know myself enough to keep up a social media profile? For the meantime, I’ll avoid feeding the beast. It knows too much while I have yet to figure myself out.