Hey, hello! I'm going to start this column off with a concept that's been around for a while, but one I've been asked to explain at least once a month by the Olds in my life: finstas.
On its most basic level, "finsta" is the combination of the words "fake" and "Instagram," which puts it in contrast with a user's "rinsta" ("real" + "Instagram"). It's a person's secondary account on the social platform, curated for a unique audience and purpose. If someone says they have a finsta, they definitely also have a rinsta, but having a rinsta doesn't imply that one also has a finsta.
Entries for "finsta" started appearing on Urban Dictionary at the beginning of 2015. The top entry by user thewizardofwords goes into more detail about the mechanics of the finsta:
A finsta is a combination of the words Fake & Insta(gram). When people have a finsta they post pictures they only want their closest friends seeing instead of their regular instagram (rinsta) followers to see. Usually a girl has a finsta and boys arent supposed to follow it.
Finstas arent supposed to be taken seriously and it doesnt matter how many posts or followers you have. Finstas are mainly kept private and have funny or clever usernames.
Who Can View a Finsta?
As a general rule, your finsta followers are a pared-down group of your rinsta followers. Your best friends would be following you on both accounts, but someone you haven't spoken to since middle school might only be allowed to follow you on your rinsta.
Even if your rinsta isn't set to private, your finsta definitely is. The account handle for your rinsta is far more likely to be connected to your real name and, if you have one, your Facebook account. Finsta handles are more similar to early screen names (e.g. tina_colada or princesspisces), and aren't outwardly connected to your identity.
Contrary to what many Oldies believe, this separation of identity is not because finstas are inherently dumping grounds for teens to post pictures of themselves doing bad things: it's more about curating a feeling of trust and closeness between you and your followers.
At its core, the finsta/rinsta dichotomy hinges on curation and performativity, and teens know this even if they haven't read Erving Goffman.
The Real Purpose of the Finsta
Your rinsta is tightly curated, has pictures of your birthday cake, a really good selfie, your dog, you and your friends at the beach. The number of posts are limited, but the number of followers are limitless. For example, this account has many of the hallmarks of a well-curated, aesthetic rinsta (which people will just refer to as their "insta"):
Screenshot via Instagram
Your finsta, on the other hand, is the final resting place for all of your ugly selfies, screenshots of texts from your crush, pictures of nothing with captions that are basically diary entries. There's no feeling self-conscious on your finsta. It's the place to be unashamed and unfiltered and performative to the max.
This is where I take issue with the definition that thewizardofwords gives, which says that "finstas aren't supposed to be taken seriously." On some levels, finstas can just be reposted memes or a selfie of you with a double chin; but often they exist as a place to put your innermost thoughts, the stream-of-consciousness feelings that can't just exist inside your head. But even though a finsta doesn't have the content constraints that a rinsta has doesn't mean that the performative aspects of it aren't there. If rinstas are a place for performing aspirations, then finstas are a place for performing the struggle.
For example, my little sister's finsta (and don't worry, I got her permission to talk about this) has photos of herself from when she was a chubby kid, bad selfies, reposted memes about school, and even photosets where she asks her followers to vote on which one she should post to her rinsta. All of these are accompanied by essay-length captions about how everything sucks and how she hates her life.
Another friend's finsta is made up entirely of selfies where she's crying. Under every photo, there's a long explanation for why she's crying. The feelings behind finstas are real, no doubt, but by feeding them through Instagram, they can get magnified into and broadcasted as something more intense than what they actually are.
That's why describing it as your "fake" instagram is complicated. Your finsta's the place for the real you, while the more fake/curated/perfect aesthetic version of you lives on your rinsta. But if you take the confessional aspects to the next level, that's not the real you either. At the end of the day, the teens have developed a really provoking (and self-aware) way to refer to and classify how they depict themselves online, and I'm here for it.
What Teens Want Parents to Know
Since finstas are private and only accessible by people who are given permission to follow them, there's no snooping a parent can do without their kid's knowledge. You can't sneak a peak at their high-tech diary while they're off at school.
It's the content (or lack of access to said content) that's likely a bit nerve-wracking to parents, which is understandable. But if there are no other reasons to be concerned, I'd say you can relax about them having this private online space. Keep the lines of communication open between you and your kid. If they go to you for help with their problems or when they're feeling sad, then there's probably not much that they're putting on their finsta that you don't already know about.