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A modern diary: 'Finsta' accounts serve as an outlet for self-expression

Illustration by Troy Becker / Forum News Service

Before the age of technology, diaries provided a much-needed space for teens to explore their feelings and identities. In 2017, social media has become the modern diary, providing an outlet for self-expression across each site.

But when adults — including parents and grandparents — slowly started to infiltrate the sites, they became less attractive to teens who were forced to seek privacy, creating accounts hidden from family members.

Thus, 'Finsta' was born.

What is Finsta(gram)?

"Finsta is kind of an alternative Instagram," says Lauren Richardson, 21, of Fargo. "If someone has a normal Instagram, they can have a second (account) that is private. They use it for things they wouldn't want the everyday person to see, such as their family or work."

As a Finsta user herself, Jordyn Templeton, 20, of Moorhead explains "my regular Instagram I let my mom follow. Finsta is more of friends," she says. "On my regular Instagram, I'll pick the best picture from the night, but then on Finsta it might be the really blurry picture. I'll be like 'This is what really happened last night.'"

Finsta has earned a bad rap nationally because news outlets have reported inappropriate content, such as nudity, underage drinking, drug use and other inappropriate posts.

"People will post selfies and talk about their mental health," Richardson says. "Or people will post pictures just in their bras for body awareness-type things. Some people take it too far and post really sexual images of themselves."

Carly Erickson, 19, of Moorhead uses Finsta for other reasons.

"I created a Finsta because I wanted a space to act as a sort of a journal," she says. "I use my Finsta for journaling about how my day was, what is new in my life and for sharing small victories."

Emily Jones, a licensed certified social worker at Abound Counseling, says Finsta can serve many purposes, including "a very adolescent need for connection with other adolescents," she says. "It's the ability to do the things they want to do — develop their own identity separate from mom and dad, which is not necessarily a bad thing either. And then, it's trying to get the attention for things they do that are negative."

Rinsta vs. Finsta

"Rinsta," or real Instagram accounts, differ from Finsta accounts in several ways.

"I think there's kind of an unspoken rule that you shouldn't post on Instagram more than once a day," Templeton says. "But on Finsta, there are no rules. I'll post like four things in one day if I want to."

On most Rinsta accounts, small descriptions are posted, but on Finsta it's common to share paragraphs worth of content. Photos with SnapChat filters are also acceptable on Finsta but not Rinsta.

"On normal Instagram, you want things to look cohesive because that's how Instagram's supposed to be," Richardson says. "On a Finsta, that's not even a concern. You just post whatever you want."

Erickson and Templeton say that because their Finsta accounts are private, their follower counts vary widely. Erickson has 858 followers on her Instagram but only 134 on Finsta. Templeton's numbers are similar — 900 versus 159 followers.

Finstas usernames are also known for being unique which allows anonymity. Sometimes they play on nicknames, the user's name spelled differently, an ode to music or even a favorite artist.

"My Finsta is @djcrocs because I wear Crocs all the time — I have seven pairs," Templeton says. "I always joke that I want to be a DJ, so I thought, 'That can be my Finsta — @djcrocs."

Dangerous drawbacks

Depending on the content shared, Finsta can come with repercussions.

"I prefer people who use Finsta to be funny," Templeton says. "Some people use it to spill all their life problems. But I'm like, 'It's still not the place to do that.' "

Despite pressure from friends, Richardson has chosen not to create a Finsta account. As a current college student, she feels it could get her in trouble with future employers.

"I think it's dangerous and can lead to so much conflict," she says. "(Followers) could screenshot (posts) so easily. Once you post it and all these people are following you, they can't unsee it."

Jones says part of adolescent development is thinking solely of the "'here and now.' There's no future thinking," she says. "We can sit and tell them 'Future employers are going to look online' or 'These things can come back to haunt you,' but that idea doesn't truly sink in. It's the same thing as SnapChat. Yes, it may be private. But there's always a footprint."

Ultimately, both Finsta and social media in general begs the question: without social media, would we share this much of our lives with others?

"I think people have opened up to the world so much more but only through social media, and I think that's kind of scary to think about," Richardson says.

Imperfect posts

As a mother, Jones has felt the societal pressure from social media herself.

"There's that idea that 'I have to put up a front.' Instagram has become this societal place where everything has to be perfect," she says. "If I'm feeling that as an adult, what is my 12-year-old feeling?"

On social media, people tend to curate their accounts, showing only the highlight reel of their life. Advocates argue that Finsta provides a safe space for users to truly express themselves without judgement.

"I just feel like I can post whatever I want on my Finsta," Templeton says. "I don't hold back versus on regular Insta, it's like 'How are people going to read this? What are people going to think of this picture?' "

Erickson agrees, adding on Finsta, "there's less pressure to post aesthetically pleasing photos or less pressure to post what other people want to see," she says. "It's more about what you like."

As a counselor, Jones says Finsta is "a place where a kid can go be themselves — and actually be their authentic self. That's not always going to be a positive thing but they're at least exploring their own identity, getting a sense of who they are and not putting that pressure on themselves to be perfect all the time."

Before jumping to conclusions, Jones says parents should discuss Finsta with their children.

"People can use anything for negative purposes — and maybe that was the intent," she says. "But what a great thing if the original idea behind it was to hide something but it became something absolutely positive."

Advice for users and parents

To ensure utmost safety, Finsta users should consider the following:

• Think before you post. "Don't post in an extreme moment of emotion, whether that's positive or negative," Jones says. "Always think about how this could come back and affect future jobs, future relationships."

• Be aware of your audience. "Depending on what you're going to post I guess, be careful of who you let follow you," Templeton says.

• Be true to yourself. "I think sometimes there's a lot of pressure to post what others want to see on your regular Instagram, whereas you do not have to worry about that with a Finsta," Erickson says.

For parents of teens, social worker Emily Jones recommends the following:

• Talk to your kids about it. "My advice would be to kind of treat it like the sex, drug and alcohol talk," she says. "You're going to sit down and have this talk about the risks as you absolutely should, as a parent."

• Don't automatically jump to distrust. "Just because your child may have (a Finsta), doesn't necessarily mean they're doing bad things or they shouldn't have your trust," she says.

• Implement safeguards. "One of the things I can also say is (my son's) Apple account is linked to ours," she says. "That is a very real safeguard you can put in place. Every time they try to get an app, it goes to your phone and you have to approve it."

Alexandra Floersch

Alexandra Floersch has worked for Forum Communications since February 2015. She is a content producer and photographer who enjoys writing about finance, fashion and home.

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