Great Britain

'I have a secret Instagram account and this is why'

How online am I? I’ve got two Instagram accounts. 

Yes, you read that correctly: two Instagram accounts.

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No, I am not a celebrity and believe me, I’m aware of just how masochistic it sounds. In an era when people are willing to shell out their hard-earned cash to detox from screen time and experts warn us that spending just 30 minutes on Instagram is enough to torpedo through our positive body image, having two accounts on a social media platform that’s regarded as one of the most toxic might seem like a bizarre decision. 

Yet it’s one I fully endorse: in December, I’ll be celebrating 12 months since I launched a second, private, Instagram account with a fiercely curated follower list. I have what is commonly known as a “Finstagram” or “Finsta”: a fake Instagram account.

Finsta usage is on the rise among Gen Z Instagram users, and the behaviour is starting to filter upwards to millennials too. The proliferation of padlocked accounts is a testament to the tense relationship that many of us grapple with when it comes to social media. A presence on sites like Instagram has become indispensable for making both personal and professional connections – but it can also be incredibly suffocating. 

What was once simply a photo-sharing social site has now become a full blown social network, shopping emporium and marketing platform rolled into one.

Last year, the fastest-growing Instagram function was its direct messaging feature and, since the platform launched its shopping capabilities in 2018, 130 users have engaged with it daily.

Among younger generations Instagram has far surpassed the social power of Facebook. My friends and I use it to navigate everything from finding a place to lay our head to finding someone to lay. Instagram is going nowhere and it’s only going to become more integrated in the lives of those who’ve come of age through Valencia filtered hues and 2:3 imagery.

Logging off – while a nice dream – is not always feasible. Although my public Instagram page started off as a space purely for my friends and family, over the years it has morphed uneasily into something more. I’ve accrued followers from different sources. Contacts from my professional life are listed as having watched my Instagram story right above people I’ve met while bleary-eyed in a club smoking area at 2am.

The problem is, my work as a writer involves a level of selling myself on social media, even if it’s not always conscious. It’s undeniable that Instagram has helped me pay my rent at times, even to a small degree. Whether bringing opportunities in writing or just a contact who recommended me for something after stumbling across my profile - there’s been cash flow as a result of the content I upload. So, while I’d be happy to show off my warts-and-all existence on my main account, where professionalism is concerned, it may not be the savviest choice..

In fact, it was a concerned DM from a colleague that led to the birth of my finsta in the first place.

Last December, I posted a picture that showed me in my underwear, along with a long caption discussing how only certain women were allowed to publicly express sexual agency, and even then, only in very specific ways. Almost immediately, a notification pinged. It was a then-colleague warning me that the editors of the publication would not like the post at all - and would probably ask me to take it down.

“But the whole point is about women not being able to express their sexuality unless it’s someone with cultural capital, like Beyoncé!” I protested.

“Doesn’t matter,” she typed back. “They won’t care.”

I was incensed but also recognised she was right. So I dug out my back-up email address – the one reserved for entering competitions or bypassing annoying sign-up pages – and created a new private page. There, I uploaded the original post I’d removed from my main account and added an additional sentence about how the whole debacle had led to the inception of this new space. On my main account I posted a story, announcing my finsta was open for business.

Thus, my finsta was born with a nude. But it didn’t stay that way. I’ve uploaded pictures and stories recounting the intimate detail of everything from bad break ups to financial lows and career woes. But I’ve also dished on the dizzy joy of falling in love, becoming politically active and professional achievements. The space sees the best and worst of me.

You might be wondering why someone feels the need for such a space. But, as a 24-year-old, I’m a digital native who grew up with the Internet as a processing tool. By the time I needed a space in which to vent, share creative ideas and socialise with friends, Tumblr, MySpace or LiveJournal had long since passed into the ether. Twitter and Instagram had become the new go-tos for a generation who wanted to scream into the void – and sometimes have the void scream back. 

For me, the finsta account is just a safe space online where I can breathe. I’ve cleared my account of much of the negative noise we scroll past on Instagram and my uber curated follower list (159 followers, 90 per cent of them women, no straight men accepted), has only ever been positive for me: a space for conversation, for sharing, for support, a community of sorts.

Yesterday, I asked my finsta followers what was making them happy right now, in a bid to lift my mood on a grey Tuesday. A few shared stories of flourishing careers. One individual was getting married to the “love of their life”. One person simply named a dog they were following on Insta. Reading the responses, I thought how lucky I am to have found a little corner of the internet that still feels somewhat pure. I pledged to clutch it tight - and never, ever forget the login details.

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