The Art is in the Artifice

What Finstas Reveal about the Tech Age

According to Urban Dictionary, a Finsta is defined as “a fake Instagram account, so one can post ratchet pictures without persecution from sororities, jobs, and society as a whole.”

Sure, Urban Dictionary might not be the most reliable of lexicons, but it does do a good job contextualizing the strange movements and obscene slangs that arise within teenage subcultures—of which the Finsta is one.

When researching the Finsta, I was surprised to find that the majority of articles discussing them are written by concerned, borderline frantic parents on forum-esque publications like bewebsmart.com warning other parents that their children are using Finstas to “hide scandalous and overtly sexual behavior” and “cultivate alter egos.”

At first I was amused by their antics, especially their incredulous assumption that Finstas are seducing their children into devising sinister “alter egos.” Just your typical helicopter parents frustrated by the futility of their efforts to supervise their kids on the web. However, after considering the “ratchet” content featured on my own Finsta, I gradually came to admit that their might be some credence in the concerned parent’s fear that secret Instagram accounts are facilitating unchecked self-disclosure.

This summer, I, too, posted something dumb on my Finsta.

The post wasn’t horribly incriminating, nothing that could get me arrested or anything. It was just your typical embarrassing video starring a drunken me dancing around a pool with shoes on my hands, something I thought my close friends would get a kick out of. Like most Finsta posts, it was the result of a silly impulse to share with friends, funny only in its stupidity, a slice of the real, uncut edition of my life. I captioned it with an odd combination of emojis and sent it into the world with little fear of consequence.

Flash forward two months and I’m at Brown. Whoohoo college! It’s a Friday night, and some girl I don’t know and don’t like is fervently arguing about politics, her convictions in no way hampered by her inability to form coherent sentences. She’s talking about closet skeletons, as in, the kind of secrets private investigators are hired to uncover.

So I start thinking about my own skeletons. My record is relatively incident free, and I havn’t been convicted of any major felonies. On Facebook I’m just a nice girl who seems to go to a lot of school sporting events. But then I thought back to that video… really my whole Finsta in general… and realized that in the hands of my enemies, my account could fuel a really nasty smear campaign.

I was hit by the sudden revelation that everything I put on Instagram is forever cemented in cyberspace, regardless of whether or not my account is private. A screenshot of me doing the shoe-hand Cat Daddy, if circulated, could easily be used to thwart my future political aspirations.

Perhaps you are reading this and thinking, “No shit, Annabelle. That’s why most of our high school photo albums are full of suspiciously placed orange juice cartons that cut off people’s fingers.”

Sure, we learned not to put incriminating photos on Facebook, but Finsta is supposed to be different. The Finsta account is supposed to relieve us from the chore of managing our “real” Instagram personas. Functioning like the “VIP” section of our publicized lives, the Finsta, or “fake” Instagram, is only accessible to the lucky few whom the user deems worthy of their “real” life. It isn’t uncommon to see a Finsta with 20 followers because of the strict, “no randos, no members of the sex that you’re attracted to” rule, which is supposed to effectively shield the user from judgement.

On a Finsta, it is perfectly acceptable to post three pictures of your tabby cat in rapid succession, captioning each with a long, expository paragraph describing the sandwich you had for lunch.

Hell, it’s encouraged.

So we do. We vent about our petty frustrations and poor decisions, tell long-winded anecdotes about awkward encounters with cute TAs, essentially use our Finstas to showcase the shitshow behind the cool facade.

The Finsta’s purpose isn’t just to expose the shitshow but to celebrate its universality. By fostering a community of mutual trust, Finstas allow us to collectively revel in the proverbial Struggle. But if in 20 years I’m running for the Senate and one of my less-close high school friends gets offered 20 grand for a video of me doing something stupid, I can’t say I’d blame her for selling me out.

Will the voluntary exposure of our most embarrassing moments someday result in our undoings? Honestly, it easily could. I mean granted, some people’s questionable social media activity warrants judgement. Take Dominyk Alfonseca, for example, who was arrested in 2015 for robbing a bank only after video blogging about it on his Instagram. Sorry Dominyk, but that colossal misstep will and probably should affect your job prospects.

But most of us aren’t Dominyk. Most of us are just trying to reclaim our identities by proudly exhibiting our inner ratchet-ness in a medium that mimics installation artwork. Our impulse to share is clearly symptomatic of the scrutinizing times in which we were raised. In a culture that demands calculated spontaneity at all times, it seems only natural that we should seek relief through confessional outlets.  In fact, our need to do so seems indicative of some societal deficiency that should probably be addressed ASAP. So with all of this acknowledged, shouldn’t our future employers pardon us for the silly mistakes of our pasts?

And what about those pictures that aren’t voluntarily disclosed but used as ammunition to discredit us?

If someone leaked of video of a teenage Hillary Clinton breakdancing in a toga right now, it would probably be really unfortunate for America. But that’s because Hillary’s generation doesn’t understand what it’s like to grow up with camera phones, always knowing that a horrible picture of you mid burrito bite is saved on your friend’s laptop, destined to resurface on your birthday.

Unluckily for us, our exposure is imminent and unavoidable. The Cloud knows everything, and one of these days a computer nerd with a grudge is going to breach it and expose us all. I’m fairly confident of this, despite having little to no understanding of how The Cloud works.

That being said, it seems that the only time where we can assume full control over our self-disclosure is through our digital personas. Posting a ratchet picture on Finsta is essentially making a public declaration of self, a shameless admission that one’s existence falls short of society’s expectations.

I’d argue that by the year 2040, some kind of campaign will emerge encouraging us to applaud the Finsta, revering it as the conception of a grassroots movement determined to reject soul-stifling social constructs. Instead of judging prospective employees by the dumb posts of their past selves, professional superiors will seek to understand the context within which those pictures were posted. Academics will study the Finsta to dissect the psychological impulses that led to their popularity. Brown will offer an MCM class examining the Finsta’s societal implications. A MOMA exhibit will be dedicated to garnering appreciation for the Finsta, a digital aperture that was indicative of so much more than wanting to be “ratchet” online.

And as a result of this campaign, we’ll all reach a breaking point, declare a cease fire and decide to stop frontin’. And I will run for mayor in a quaint, seaside New England town. And no one will object on the grounds that my shoe-hand Cat Daddy renders me ineligible for candidacy.