A scroll through a typical teenager’s Instagram account is likely to reveal chin-down-camera-up selfies, funny photobombs with friends and a catalogue of cute weekend outfits.
But, unlike adults who often pass off carefully curated photos and liberal use of filters as reality, many teenagers have a second, hidden Instagram account to share unedited, unfiltered, raw photos of real life with close friends.
Dubbed a ‘Finstagram’ – a hybrid of fake and Instagram – these accounts capture the makeup-free, the ordinary and the everyday that’s missing from the Instagram accounts parents know about.
Paradoxically, Finstas are the real Instagram.
It takes two
Health psychologist Dr Marny Lishman says most teenagers have fake social media accounts hidden by pseudonyms or set to private, and the obvious benefit is keeping content hidden from clueless parents.
“What I’m finding is that parents are quite confident in saying, ‘I’m friends with my child on Instagram. I know exactly what they’re up to’. But that’s not the case.”
Finstas can also act as a safe space for teenagers to share how they’re really feeling with a select group of followers.
“Teenagers have private accounts for the not-so-perfect parts of their lives,” says Dr Lishman.
“A lot of us put the perfect photos on our public profiles, but kids need to show their emotions quite a bit and share some of the raw feelings and the negative stuff they’re going through.”
Natalie Hendry, a media researcher and lecturer in education at Deakin University, says Finstas help young people to curate audiences but the practice itself isn’t new or necessarily cause for concern.
“It is about managing visibility to different people at different times,” she says. “We’ve always done this with our relationships and media – this isn’t new to young people.”
Plus, she says corporate presence on Instagram influences how teenagers use the medium.
“As brands and celebrities have increasingly joined Instagram, some young people say that you need to present a fun, happy, stylish set of photos – about you or your food or your dog or black and white images of daily life,” says Hendry.
“This means that curating a profile with multiple different types of photos might seem confusing. Curating a profile means being selective about what goes in your profile, so it makes sense to separate your cute holiday pics from your embarrassing moments.”
A photo posted by Brooklyn Decker (@brooklyndecker) on
Should teens fake it?
Dr Lishman says private accounts can be vulnerable to bullying in the complex world of teenage friendships.
“A lot of bullying plays out in private accounts,” she says.
“It could be friends that are no longer friends or other people at school. Some of my clients have reported awful stuff that’s been said in their private accounts, very threatening material that a bully would normally never say in front other people or in a public forum.”
Misconception. Everybody has good and bad angles.. Everybody! It's pretty confronting posting a photo like this… But I decided to do it because showing you guys what is real is what's important to me. The photo on the right isn't edited at all, so it's not that it's not real, but just from the way I'm standing, I've managed to change the way my body looks quite dramatically. Obviously we don't upload photos of ourselves that we find ugly or unflattering – but I wanted to show that everybody does have those angles. Nobody is perfect. And both @laura.henshaw and myself are extremely passionate about making sure all of you have a healthy outlook on body image. Check out our latest blog post. Also join in… Particularly if you're a 'fitspo' or a 'model' – we'd love you to join us. Hashtag #misconceptionkic ❤️ PS : NEITHER OF US ARE SAYING THAT WE LOOK HORRIBLE IN THE LEFT PHOTOS… They're just not our 'best' angles ..
A photo posted by Steph Smith (@stephclairesmith) on
Ultimately, however, Hendry says Finstas help teenagers develop social skills that are essential for adult life.
“Having a fake Instagram is about your audience – and any form of social communication relies on relationships,” she says.
“This is familiar to us all. Risks are inherent in all relationships. Who is in your follower list? What happens if you have a fight with them? Do you block them? Do you block their friends? How might you manage something if someone screenshots something you post?
“These are questions about building ethical relationships and friendships.
“It’s about learning how to communicate with friends when there is a problem or you need to say that you don’t like something that is going on.”