The Wall Street Journal onthulde this tuesday that parent company Facebook withheld research that would show that teens became insecure about Instagram. For example, the company knew from its own research that 40 percent of the British and American teens surveyed who felt unattractive attribute that feeling to Instagram.
The disclosure, the second in a series by the newspaper under the heading ‘Facebook Files’, can be compared with the news that Shell was already aware of global warming in the 1980s. Or the tobacco industry that already knew how harmful smoking was.
Meanwhile, young people who grew up with Instagram in recent years have found a way to respond to the damaging influence of beautiful influencers with perfect lives. In addition to a ‘normal’ and public Instagram account, they maintain a ‘finsta’ (fake Instagram) for a small, selected audience. They then share the photos and videos that do not meet the current beauty ideals of Instagram.
The finsta was initially mainly used by celebrities, such as Ariana Grande, Justin Bieber and Demi Lovato, who wanted to post without their millions of followers watching. But the finsta is also becoming fashionable among ‘normal’ teenagers, in their twenties and thirties in the Netherlands.
“It feels liberating to be yourself,” says Laura Iannei (24) about her Instagram account intended for a select audience. “When you climb a mountain, you post a very flattering photo. On my finsta I put that photo where I am sweating and clambering up that mountain with a crazy mouth.” Innanei shares “funny moments”, but also “ugly photos”, “or when I’m singing really out of tune.”
Laura Lannei (24) posts the stylized photo on her public account. Photo Laura Lanneic
She places the less posed photo on her shielded ‘finsta’.
Photo Laura Lannei
Emiel Heuver (24) from Amsterdam shares a finsta with his housemates. “It’s a kind of diary for all of us.” The account was created during a joint corona quarantine. By setting an account to private, others must send a follow request to follow the account. “Only people who know one of us can follow the account. No parents, brothers or sisters,” he laughs. “For example, new housemates are introduced by others.”
Instagram does not publish data on how many people manage a second (closed) account.
The graduation thesis of marketing expert Anna Vallianatou does give a small indication. In 2019, she surveyed a hundred Dutch Instagram users, mostly between 18 and 34 years old. 43 percent of those surveyed said they have a Facebook. The respondents indicated that they mainly use the second account for unfiltered or unphotoshopped photos, ‘random photos’ and memes.
Media scientist Linda Duits of Utrecht University, it sounds like a familiar story. “Each social network has its own characteristics and leads to its own way of using it. Snapchat was the first to introduce images that disappear when viewed. You then saw that users posted ‘ugly photos’ of themselves, after all, they disappeared again. Think crazy faces, weird filters.”
Compare to each other
The exact opposite is true on Instagram, as is also apparent from the so-called ‘deep dive’ into the psychological problems of teenagers that parent company Facebook itself initiated. The mutual comparison appears to be stronger than on competing platforms such as Facebook and Snapchat. The company also kept these findings to itself. German: “You create a picture for the outside world, but you also want to have a ‘normal’ Instagram, where not everything has to be slick.” Behold the Finsta.
The ‘normal’ Instagram account serves as a calling card to the outside world, says German, “while you also want a place where you share ‘reality’. In the end, it’s all about control: what do you share with whom? The finsta is a continuation of that.”
Young women in particular suffer from the ‘public eye’ on Instagram – anyone can watch and think or comment on it. “That applies to celebrities, but also in (higher) education. Then the whole class or school also watches. The culture online is intense, there is a lot of hate and criticism. That’s how people avoid it.”
The finsta is also used to seek out social dialogue, such as that of photographer Remco de Vries (27) from Dordrecht. On public accounts, especially when it comes to politics, things quickly get tough. I don’t need that. On my finsta I can discuss politics.” It is a ‘political bubble’ curated by him. “It’s a ‘small’ account, with like-minded people. That way you don’t keep discussing endlessly with opponents, critics and trolls.”
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