So, it’s been about an hour of sweaty, bass-thumping dancing at a house party that, in most respects, is identical to every other one I’ve ever been to. I walk outside to get some fresh air (and maybe a welcome whiff of cigarette smoke) when a friend approaches me complaining that a girl she clearly “cancelled” is still following her “finsta,” or “fake Instagram.”
Let me dial this back a little bit.
In fact, let's dial it back all the way to 2011. I’m in middle school and I have just heard of a fledgling social media app called Instagram. In those tweeny days, most people I knew were active users on Facebook. However, as Facebook was becoming the conventional platform of choice, Instagram represented the Wild, Wild West: lawless with these new things called filters.
I remember the days of Instagram when it was OK to post 10 photos of the donuts you just bought and then — that same day — post another photo of yourself eating pizza. With no etiquette established, Instagram was a free-for-all. Some would even nostalgically consider this age of 1:1 aspect ratios and endless troves of tacky selfies the platform’s “Golden Age.”
Simultaneously, as Instagram was breaking new grounds, the godfather of social media (and ironically, now Instagram’s parent company), Facebook was being decried as “dead.”
As the first social media platform to gain international ubiquity, Facebook had changed since its college-student-only origins. In 2011, parents were starting to make Facebook accounts, which, as with any trend, can only signify waning cultural relevance. Ads were increasing their presence and, worst of all, people were actually beginning to put effort into things posted. Instagram provided relief from the increasing formality of Facebook. It was an oasis for the younger generation to express themselves fully.
Now, fast forward to today. Facebook and Instagram still exist, yet things have changed. Facebook has become the “serious” platform used by all age demographics. However, as a result of the presence of everyone from your mom to your high school literature teacher, Facebook has descended into a realm that seems to be dominated solely by political bickering and other formal matters. The discourse can sometimes be so heated that it makes sense why Russian hackers would infiltrate it as a means to influence the 2016 Presidential election. Similarly, the innocuous Instagram of 2011 seems unimaginable in today’s culture of “influencers” and brand-crafting. Just like the Facebook of yore, people actually give a shit about what they post. This increasing formality has prompted some users to declare Instagram “dead” as well. In fact, it has become so formal that some users have moved to other image-sharing platforms like Vsco or Pinterest as a means to express themselves without judgement; some have even created “finstagrams.”
Finstagram, a portmanteau of “fake” and “Instagram,” ironically is the place where users feel as though they can be at their realest. As a reaction to the growing pressure of image control on Instagram, users have begun to open up side accounts. These side accounts, in contrast to the mains, are not under the user’s real name. In fact, finsta account names are normally derived from a pun or an inside joke based on the person’s name. Rather than letting anyone who wants to follow you, only your closest friends are allowed to access yout finsta. With these privacy precautions in place, the finsta has become the perfect place to reveal your true thoughts, tell embarrassing stories, talk shit about whoever, etc.
This article is not about Instagram or Facebook, but a phenomenon that affects social media in general. If we naturally run from increasing formality, why does it continue to appear on every social media platform that gains popularity? It is a sad reality that as a function of time and success, social media platforms will all inevitably lose their harmless and youth-dominated origins in the process. It seems to be a consequence of the fact that participation in social media is quickly transforming from a voluntary activity to a chore, a job, an economic resource.