Fact versus finsta: the search for authenticity on the Internet

Anna-Kay Reeves

Finsta accounts, which are usually private, highlight the less picturesque and more personal moments of an Instagram user’s life. This is done comedically, recklessly or emotionally, varying from account to account. Some users find finstas a major asset to maintaining a genuine web presence, while for others, finstas are an online mask.

To some, such as UT sophomore John Doe, this “fake” account is one of the few places to be real online. Doe said that main Instagram accounts only show life through rose-colored glasses.

“Social media in general focuses on these false realities,” Doe said. “Finstas allow you to share the real moments that you wouldn’t normally put on any other forums.”

According to Gina Chen, assistant journalism professor and expert in online emotions, it’s in our nature as humans to connect, and we use all tools available to do so. Chen explained that authenticity online means reacting naturally to the online atmosphere, and when we communicate online, we adapt our instinct to connect with others and function in a new way.

But for others, Instagram is also a tool to steal others’ identities. On Instagram, international relations freshman Alyse Balderrama has two accounts in her name but controls only one. Balderrama recently found a fake account in her name which uses photos of her and friends. She has yet to successfully get the account removed. In this instance, the untraceable aspect of the internet and the privacy of the fake account come together to aid inauthenticity.

“It’s scary that someone can make an account pretending to be you so easily,” Balderrama said. “Not even my friends knew it wasn’t me.”

Following this logic, Chen said that just as people feel the need to share some aspects of their lives with only close friends, Instagram users feel the urge to connect with a select group of followers through finstas. In Chen’s evaluation, neither the finsta nor the main account is fake, but neither is completely authentic either. Both express parts of what makes up the whole in people. It’s a question of knowing your audience; the finsta and the main account compartmentalize a user’s social circles and help match content to the right audience, Chen said.

Yet while the same logic applies to both interpersonal and social media communications in a basic sense, there’s no doubt that the internet brings new elements to the table. For example, the distance between two strangers feels much greater online than in person. This gives users courage to express themselves in ways they wouldn’t with even their closest friends one-on-one.

“You don’t have to see the look on the person’s face with the internet,” Chen said. “People feel safe saying and doing things they never would in person.”

Neither the exchanges on finstas or regular accounts are what we would see in face-to-face interactions. However, the exchanges can’t be called inauthentic, because as Chen points out, they are still displays of human nature. They are part of the modern authentic, a result of people trying to translate emotions into computer code.