By Christina Vranian Grande
What is FINSTA? If you haven’t even heard of FINSTA and inadvertently learn that your teenager has a fake social media account, you might have a few questions. One teacher investigated by asking her students why they have fake social media accounts on Instagram and other popular sites.
“I need to look at a popular page. I feel disconnected from the world.”
One of my favorite students, Hallie dragged her birkenstock-clad feet as she shuffled into my classroom during break.
“Oh, I can pull up a news site,” I joked. “CNN?”
“Ugh. I can’t pull up my Instagram feed.” Hallie whined, pressing buttons on her phone.
Knowing that students often created Fake Instagram accounts or FINSTAs, I decided that this was my opportunity to ask the question to which I longed to know the answer:
“Are you trying to open your FINSTA?” I asked. I made sure to look down at my computer as I asked, not wanting her to know how eager I was for her response. “Do you have a FINSTA?”
“What?” She kept typing.
“Mine has really ugly pictures on it,” she snorted. “I’m only friends with a few people.”
“Ugly pictures?” I questioned.
“You know, just funny pics you want only your friends to see.”
“So, why don’t you just send a snapchat or a text?” I pressed.
“I don’t know. Once everybody does it, you do too. Ya know?”
What is FINSTA?
And there was my answer. What is FINSTA? Partly, it’s something kids do because everyone else is. How many kids, I wondered, made these accounts or made other decisions based on their friends’ choices? Even Hallie’s Birkenstocks were worn by a dozen of her friends. Aside from hair color, it was difficult to tell the junior girls apart. Each girl wore black leggings and an athletic top—the uniform of the 17-year-old. If you asked them why they wore leggings or why they wore the sandals, they would inevitably say that the clothes were comfortable.
I doubt that even Hallie would admit to having a FINSTA “because everyone else does” if she was surrounded by her friends. But in a one-on-one relationship, high school teenagers tend to be very open, especially to adults who aren’t their parents. So, I decided that in the next 10 seconds I would try to continue my personal research on FINSTA.
“Do other people just post ugly pictures?” I asked, knowing she was distracted at that moment and she wouldn’t catch on to my interrogation.
“Yeah. You know, girls think, I look too ugly to post this on my RINSTA [real Instagram], so I’m going to post it here.”
Hallie’s friend David walked in as she finished her sentence. She was still distracted by her password loss. David asked what we were talking about. He shook his head in disagreement, “No, it’s for drugs or alcohol.”
Although I knew the days of the drug dealer pager were over, I had never considered that a secret social media account could be the new underground drug web. It’s a status symbol for teenagers to have as many followers as possible on a social media account, but kids who were involved in illegal or scandalous activities couldn’t risk having thousands of followers. The solution—kids brilliantly created two social media accounts, one private and one public. One social media account bragged of hundreds of followers, while the other had a more devious mission.
As I continued my conversation with David, I decided to poll other students informally throughout the day. I wanted to get to the bottom of my FINSTA investigation. While kids would nod when I mentioned drugs or alcohol, they also admitted to preferring a less public profile on occasion.
Their FINSTAs narrowed their social circle—their “fake feeds” became places where they felt comfortable. FINSTA was a sounding board where they could discuss their bad days or make jokes they knew their friends would appreciate and not ridicule.
Having taught teenagers for the past 16 years, I admit that I find it harder to identify with their social norms. But being on the inside, I have the unique opportunity to observe their communication (much like I could by sitting next to a Secret Society Meeting). I personally have a RINSTA (a real Instagram), where I post pictures of my kids and our vacations. In most pictures, we don’t have on our Saturday night sweatpants and we aren’t wearing mismatched jammies. We send the world (or at least our followers) an edited image of ourselves.
Will I create a FINSTA? Probably not, but it might make me feel a little freer to share our real, messy lives with just a few people.
Christina Vranian Grande, a marathon runner and mother of two, is an English teacher at Trinity Episcopal School in Richmond, Virginia.