Finstas: The New, Secret Way Teens Are Using Instagram

Today's teens are using private accounts to limit what the rest of the online world sees. Do parents need to worry?

September 22, 2017
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A social media trend is emerging among today’s teens, and unlike many recent trends (illicit Snapchat stories come to mind), this is all about keeping things locked down.

Finstagrams (“finstas” for short) are secret Instagram accounts many teens are using to share privileged information about their lives with a limited number of people. They aren’t being used in place of regular or “real” Instagram accounts—sometimes referred to as “rinstagrams”—though. Instead, a finsta is a supplementary account for posting things that they don’t want to post on their public profiles.

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It wasn’t that long ago that I was a teen. I remember what it was like to want to keep certain things about my life private. Of course, I kept my innermost thoughts in a journal hidden under my bed, but today’s teens are operating a little differently. Gone are the days of LiveJournal and Xanga (and don’t even think about actually putting pen to paper).

These days, high schoolers are actually sharing their experiences and what they think about their lives with their friends—through their finstas.

Recently, HuffPost published an alarming article about these private accounts and how teens were using them to hide certain lifestyle choices from their parents. The trend caught on after parents started using social media, according to the article. Teens just wanted a place where they could be free from their parents’ judgmental gaze.

“Originally born from the desire to carve out a space free from nosy parents, finstas have morphed into a malicious animal capable of reducing even the most well-adjusted and mentally healthy teens to rubble,” Daniel Patterson, the HuffPost writer, warns in his article.

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If HuffPost does indeed have their facts straight, the vast majority of finstas are being used to share revealing pictures, hide partying, or talk about dangerous habits without their parents seeing their posts.

But how much of that is actually true?

Just how risky are finstagram accounts?

The idea of teens running private accounts can be alarming at first, but there isn’t a lot of proof that most teens are using them to hide dangerous lifestyle choices.

Of course, there are always teenagers who engage in risky behavior and, yes, some post about it online.

“I used to follow a lot of private account that did center themselves around [party] culture and violence…I think it was these kinds of bad decisions they were making that ultimately caused me to stray away from those kinds of issues and focus on the brighter and happier posting style,” an anonymous teen tells Urbo.

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However, she says that these accounts seem to be few and far between. She thinks claiming that all, or even most, finstas were created for this reason is taking it too far.

The main reason people have finstas is so they can act silly or dumb.

It is hard to say if browsing the finstagram hashtag gives an accurate representation of the secret world of finstas (since most users are keeping their accounts private—meaning they won’t show up in public feeds curated from hashtags). Some teens may have missed the memo, though, and have both their normal account and finsta account set to “public.” And that’s where the hashtag comes in.

I did a quick scroll through the most recent public #finsta posts and noticed two vastly different kind of accounts. Yes, there are some pictures that deserve to be reported (and you can bet I did), but the majority of the posts I saw were fairly harmless.

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There’s a meme about the cat with weirdly long legs in Le Chat Blanc by Pierre Bonnard. There is a picture of someone’s lunch. There’s a selfie of a girl doing facial masks with her friends. It’s kind of fun, honestly.

“The main reason people have finstas is so they can act silly or dumb,” Sage, age 15, says about her motivations behind creating a finstagram. According to Sage, most of her friends’ finstagrams are exactly like hers: They’re posting memes or less-than-flattering pictures or just ranting about something weird that happened at school. In fact, she says she has never stumbled on an account being used to conceal substance use or other risky behaviors.

“I follow a lot of accounts that started out as finstas and eventually morphed into meme-centered accounts, solely serving the purpose of making other people laugh, and I wanted to be a part of that community,” explains another teen, who is remaining anonymous at her parents’ request.

Why do teens want a private Instagram account anyway?

If most teens aren’t using their accounts to hide dangerous behavior, why have a private account at all? If a finstagram is simply memes, silly selfies, and posts about their day, why not post these pictures on their regular account?

My finsta, I typically use for…pictures I just don’t think are ‘good enough.’

According to Sage, there is a lot of pressure when your family and the entire school are following your account. She shared that her rinsta—her real account—is actually pretty boring and that the pictures are much more curated. It’s the type of stuff she wouldn’t mind a potential employer seeing. That’s how many teens use their normal Instagram accounts; at first glance, it seems they’re hardly posting to their accounts at all.

And that’s because many of them are using finstas, which seem to function as a daily diary, according to Dr. Lynn Zakeri, who is a clinical therapist working with teens in the Chicago area. When she chats with her clients about their finstas or the finstas they follow, they say they are largely sharing things they wouldn’t want to be read by the general public.

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They might go as far as sharing intimate details about a bad day, hoping their followers will help them to feel better, or they might post pictures in hopes of having their self-esteem bolstered.

“I use my main Instagram for higher quality photos of either myself or my friends and [me],” says Katie Baker, an 18-year-old college freshman. She created her finsta in high school when the trend was first catching on.

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Photos from Katie Baker’s main Instagram (left) and Baker’s finsta (right) / Courtesy of Katie Baker

She continues, “My finsta, I typically use for candids, landscape photos, or even just pictures I don’t think are ‘good enough’ for the main account. A lot of people just make their accounts funny, but there are those select few that post the crazier side of their lives.”

Here’s how a finsta works.

In general, the rules for most finstas a fairly simple. First, most teens are keeping these accounts private (although I found a handful who did not). Secondly, they can post as often as they want and their posts can be as unfiltered as they want.

It’s a way for people to post things without feeling a sense of judgement from their peers.

Want to complain about your day? Use your finstagram. Want to share a super cute (and heavily edited) picture you took during girls’ night out? That belongs on your rinstagram.

The rise of the finsta certainly seems to prove one thing: All those lectures parents have given their kids about privacy on the internet may have actually taken hold. Most kids have strict rules about who can and can’t follow their finstagram.

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Instagram (via How To Geek)

One anonymous teen said that their friends usually will deny a parent or teacher’s follow request and only allow friends they trust to follow them.

Baker backs up this assertion: “Most people have their finsta on private so they only allow the people they want and trust to follow their account. I have a finsta because it’s just funny to me to post stupid or ugly pictures on social media that I wouldn’t normally post, but only for a smaller audience,” she says.

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“If I have never met or had a simple conversation with someone that tries to follow me, then I won’t allow their request.”

Finstas might not be dangerous, but are they healthy?

Although it seem that most teens are using their finstas to blow off a little steam or share funny pictures instead of sharing risky lifestyle choices (that they might not even be making), that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily a healthy practice to engage in for any teens.

“I hear about it from junior high kids that this is where more bullying happens, more promiscuous images appear, and more testing boundaries,” explains Zakeri. Some kids may talk about self-harm ideations or share about their depression because they feel they have privacy from parental intervention—intervention they likely desperately need.

Zakeria believes that a private account, specifically one that shares intimate details about a teens life, might be a cry for attention. She tends to ask what a teen needs emotionally that they believe they can get from a private account.

Are they just sharing spam because it’s silly and fun? Probably not a big deal. Are they looking for attention they’re not getting in real life? That’s a much bigger concern.

“Any kid that needs an outlet on a fake account, as a clinical therapist and a parent, I want to know what needs are being met in the real world,” says Zakeri.

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Ultimately, Zakeri says there are bigger, underlying issues that drive a teen to create a finstagram and then share personal and private information with an exclusive set of followers. Specifically, she says that the motivation behind a finstagram is the bigger concern.

Perhaps, they’re not getting the judgement-free support they need from the adults in their life, as one anonymous teen so perfectly explains in a conversation with Urbo:

“The vast majority of finstas on Instagram aren’t spreading negativity, rather it’s a way for people to post things without feeling a sense of judgement from their peers.”

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