The Unwritten Rules of Instagram and the Rise of “Finstas”
June 25, 2019
Written by Jenny Tram, edited by Hannah Phan

Growing up in an age where all their peers are on their phones and on social media, Gen Z’ers cannot reject the world of Instagram if they care about their social standing. If you remember how hard it was to navigate high school or college, you can only imagine how much harder it has become for this generation. The pressure to have a desirable lifestyle and present yourself well to the world, a pressure every generation has experienced, is still here. The difference, however, is that Gen Z’ers are subject to an unprecedented degree of scrutiny brought on by digitalization. Consequently, people leverage their social media presences to prop up completely curated and suspiciously flawless identities.

From your follower to following ratio to whose photos you ought to and ought not to comment on, every feature on Instagram comes with unwritten rules. For example...

Instagram bio’s were created with the intent of having users say a few words about themselves (i.e. age, education, location, hobbies, or general identity). Nowadays, the less revealing your bio is, the cooler your Instagram is. However, if you leave your bio entirely blank, you’ll either be the coolest of them all or simply trying too hard. Could go either way.

A curated Instagram feed is a delicate balance between solo photos and group photos. The solo photos are ones where you probably look really good. If you have only solo photos, you’ll gain more followers but might come off as though you have no friends or are exceptionally vain. 

The age of the #hashtag is over, so if you use them, you’re outdated. However if you use them ironically, you’re 1) recognizing they’re uncool, 2) transcending the outdated fad, and 3) very cool. 

“Some girls will DM someone’s Instagram post into a group chat to critique her for posing too hard, or for using a jarring filter, or for having a weird caption. As in they will literally have a discussion about it.” - Joyce, 18

Jeez. In such a gilded age of self-representation, no wonder Gen Z’ers value authenticity from brands and businesses. 

So, when your entire online identity becomes so suffocatingly curated, what do you turn to then? 

Given their clichéd title as “digital natives”, it’s no surprise their response comes in the form of finstas: fake Instagrams. Finstas are private secondary accounts with followers in the low double digits, allowing for less curated and more haphazard engagement. They are a radical reclamation of authenticity and intimacy.

Finstas often get dismissed as reckless places where people post their drunk or immature photos, a place that lacks any worthy purpose or meaning. A more accurate representation, however, is a place where Gen Z’ers can be themselves, share their genuine lives, and  experience real intimacy with their close friends. 

“If I’m having a bad day or even a whole a** breakdown at 1am, I can rant on my finsta to all my closest friends.  And sometimes I’m not really looking to talk to anyone about it, I just want to vent.” - Sam, 20 

Finstas are an uncharted territory of communication. The insight here is that finstas are a void in which users can freely reflect and simply exist, without an expectation for validating engagement (i.e. likes or elaborate responses in the comments).

Here, you don’t need to look stunning in every solo picture of yourself in order to gain new followers and impress your current ones. You can post a goofy, too-up-close selfie just for the hell of it. 

Here, your captions can be more than just a purposely evasive string of three emojis to seem cool and mysterious. Rather, they can actually provide a glimpse into your true thoughts about whatever is on your mind.

Here, the unwritten rules that us Gen Z’ers impose upon ourselves don’t apply. The finsta is a place of resistance and anarchy.

While older generations disparage these “digital natives” for being too far removed from human connection and the warmth of in-person experiences, what they don’t understand is that Gen Z’ers must seek these connections and this warmth within a completely different culture. What they don’t understand is that Gen Z’ers are using finstas to do exactly that. 

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