Have you heard the word finsta? Some readers might be cocking their heads right about now, wondering what in the world I'm talking about. But if you have a teenager, in particular, you'll want to know.
A finsta is a fake Instagram account, set up so the user can post the "real" stuff about his life without his parents, or other unapproved individuals, seeing it. The person usually has another Instagram account that mom and dad think is the real and only one. There, they post cute cat pics and selfies with bunny ear filters. But the secret account is where the real images and posts reside. And many parents have no idea that the secret finsta - a portmanteau of the words "fake" and "Insta" - account even exists. They'd never find it since it's under an arbitrary user name, and it's often set to private, requiring that users request access in order to view the posts.
Finsta accounts, however, aren't just used by teenagers. Brooke Erin Duffy, an assistant professor of communications at Cornell University, told USA Today that many of her students have a finsta account to prevent monitoring from their employers. That comes as no surprise, given the many times people have been publicly fired because of things they've posted online - everyone from celebrities to school professors, fast food employees, and government workers. Thus, the main Instagram account that's linked to your actual name and/or Facebook profile offers squeaky clean professional images and family pics, while the finsta that no one would find unless they knew what to look for shows more risqué pics, images, or memes; goofy photos; and political-fueled rants. In other words, it shows your true self to just a select few that you are willing to let in.
It's near impossible to find or confirm the existence of a finsta, no matter how deep you dig. You can't see who an Instagram account belongs to beyond the username and the photo the person has chosen to associate with the profile. There's no linkback to an e-mail address, or way to contact the person if they haven't invited you or accepted your request to follow. Without the user name, you'd never know it was there.
It all comes down to trust, of course, especially for parents. But rest assured that if you have a child or grandchild between the ages of 13 and 18 who's active on social media, he or she probably has a finsta account - even if it is completely innocent, used to share goofier pics than they'd want you to see.
For employers, being able to troll social media profiles of current or potential staff is still possible. But with the existence of finsta accounts, you never really know if you're getting the full story. And that's ok, because even employees deserve a bit of privacy.
So is it worth setting up a finsta? A finsta account allows you to be your true self, free from judgement. It's the release of your usual digital filter. Instead of showcasing your seemingly perfect marriage, angel children, and restaurant-quality dinners, you can indulge in your unique proclivities, be more frank about your political leanings, and share personal details or moments you don't want the entire world to see, whether it's just more intimate family photos, make up-free selfies, live Stories, or memes that some who don't share your sense of humour might misconstrue as offensive.
It's interesting that while social media purports to showcase authenticity, it really shows the exact opposite - a watered down, highly censored version of an individual. Ironically, the real Instagram account is essentially the fake one while the finsta is the most real, un-edited representation of you.
The very existence of finsta accounts suggests that maybe we're not quite ready to share everything about ourselves, for fear of judgement and pushback from parents, employers, professional contacts, and non-close friends. Which leads to the question, if we don't want to show our true selves, why are we sharing anything at all?