Falling for Finstagram

There's the beautiful, composed bride everyone sees on Instagram. Then there's the stressed-out one getting married on Finstagram. Ron Chappel/ThinkStock (C) 2015 HowStuffWorks

If a picture speaks a thousand words, Instagram is home to about 800 gajillion of them. Users of the photo-sharing app upload in the neighborhood of 544 million images every day, usually for the express purposes of connecting with friends, digitally illustrating their lives and – let's be honest – bragging just a bit. (Want to see my sports car? Pictures from my fabulous cruise?) 

So in a world where more followers is usually the goal, it's interesting that some Instagram users abandon the coveted masses in favor of accounts limited to a few select friends, generally in the double digits. And the accounts are locked so no one can follow you without permission.

Why do these users do that? For many, the more “friends” you have, the less authentic your online personality is, because most of us tend to post to impress. Hence, the birth of yet another catchy pun name: “Finstagram” (short for "fake Instagram").

Erica Gerald Mason is a writer in Acworth, Georgia, who like many people, uses her regular and fake Instagram accounts for wholly separate purposes.

Her standard account of roughly 300 followers typically features her poetry and those images suitable for wider viewing and commentary, whereas her 50-person Finstagram is home to a lot of inside jokes and raw takes on her day, from Epic Mom Fails to Miley Cyrus jokes.

“It's easier to have certain conversations on Finstagram because it's a small group that really knows me,” she explains, adding, “My Finstagram friends are my snarkiest friends.” In fact, her Finstagram, like many others', often lacks rhyme or reason. “It's usually more random strains of thoughts,” she says. “Things I'd be too embarrassed to put on my regular Instagram.”

Public versus private personas are hardly a new concept. Superman is wildly different from his alter ego Clark Kent, and many celebrated actors, like Kristen Stewart and Johnny Depp are actually introverts. Social media, for all its intended “connections” often presents the best and most beautiful snippets of our collective days, giving others the illusion of perfection, which can be pretty darn stressful, especially when you're virtually surrounded by followers prone to criticism and trolling.

The relative youth of social media means that research in the area is still somewhat limited, but there is concern regarding the impact of such apps and sites on self-esteem, depression and anxiety. 

A recent Pace University study looked at the well-being of Instagram users based on the number of strangers followed, summarizing, “Findings generally suggest that more frequent Instagram use has negative associations for people who follow more strangers, but positive associations for people who follow fewer strangers [with regard to] social comparison and depressive symptoms.”

So it actually makes a lot of sense that people would bare their most private and off-the-wall thoughts and images to a small, trusted group, rather than an often very critical mass of followers they haven't seen face to face in a decade or two (or never). Now, if only we could get some of the more obnoxious and braggy celebs to follow suit ...