Instagram: @bellahadid, @dualipa, @emmachamberlain

Casual Instagram has killed the finsta

As the app enters it's 'flop era' and users pivot to the close friends filter or TikTok, once popular finsta accounts are falling off.

by Laura Pitcher
03 February 2022, 8:00am

Instagram: @bellahadid, @dualipa, @emmachamberlain

Since Instagram launched in 2010, our feeds have experienced countless eras and algorithm updates. At first, the social platform was used to post spontaneous photos with friends, highly saturated selfie edits and food shots. Nothing was thought out and almost everyone on the platform was cringe. But somewhere along the way — timing with the roll out of Instagram business profiles in May 2016 and the Kardashian effect — Instagram became a place for us to form highly curated, professional and even overly aesthetic versions of ourselves. That’s where having a finsta, a private personal account where only a select few friends could see your posts, became cool. But as the app enters its “flop era”, is having a finsta dead too? Or has a new kind of casual Instagram taken its place?

The social phenomenon of having a separate finsta was born from the desire to share moments with close friends after many of us gave up posting on feed photo on our main accounts, crumbling under the pressure of performativity. Finstas are generally filled with blurry photos with friends, less aesthetic imagery, selfies (sometimes crying) and anything else you’d want your friends to see, but perhaps not your boss or your parents.

While having a separate, smaller account might have alleviated the pressure of social media for some, comparison culture is almost inescapable while on social media, causing very real mental health ramifications. In fact, during a Senate hearing to address the mental health effects of Instagram on teens in September, Sen. Richard Blumenthal asked Antigone Davis, Facebook’s global head of safety, “Will you commit to ending finsta?” As misguided and meme-worthy of a question as that was, it appears finstas are already becoming less relevant in a time where TikTok fulfils our innate desire to “shit post”.

Akili Moree, a 20-year-old student at Northwestern University, put the growing irrelevance of “finstagram” accounts down to the return of “casual Instagram”, something he went viral for discussing on TikTok recently. Calling casual Instagram “an even greater performance” than the performative era of Instagram (think Kim Kardashian posed in a full face of makeup), Akili credits celebrity photo dumps and blurry photos as evidence to this rise. He counts Emma Chamberlain as a key inspirational figure in the shift, as well as the general revolt against the millennial aesthetic. Even Dua Lipa and Bella Hadid have started posting blurry photo dumps recently and Jorja Smith just posted a very finsta-esque selfie to her main feed with the caption “I think I might make this a parody account”.

It may seem like we’re all taking Instagram less seriously (which is a good thing, right?), but seemingly casual filter and edit-free photos are just blurring the line between what to post on your main account and your finsta (if you have one). Akili thinks this shift happened due to the pandemic, which made posting aspirational, perfectly-curated content feel out of touch. The roots of the shift, however, trace back to 2019, when we saw the demise of the influencer aesthetic. By posting finsta-worthy photos onto our main feed we’re attempting to show that we don’t care about Instagram. But the act of not caring also takes a lot of effort, from curating large photo dumps to leading an aesthetic lifestyle.

Akili had a finsta in high school when they were popular. “I think your main account was you trying to compete with everyone you remotely knew, but your finsta felt like competing with your closest friends,” he says. “You wouldn’t post a private jet on your main account, that’s corny, but you might want your friends to see it.” Akili says that in recent years the rise of TikTok has meant most of his friends are “spread too thin” to have multiple Instagram accounts, but do have multiple TikTok accounts. “Everyone’s TikTok is the place where they post any weird content,” he says. “Everything private on Instagram now is just on the close friends feature.”

There’s no doubt that the demise of the finsta is in large part due to the demise of Instagram itself, with a 2021 survey from financial services firm Piper Sandler finding that only 22 percent of teenagers said Instagram was their favourite social media platform. The app came in third after Snapchat and TikTok. With the decrease in relevance of the platform comes the decreased desire to spend time curating posts.

Jessie Andrews, model and founder of Bagatiba, says she stopped using her finsta after finding herself wasting hours of time posting on her separate accounts. “I just felt like it was so much work curating a finsta, especially since I run so many other Instagram accounts and it got to the point that I just couldn’t keep spending time on curating things that only 10 people will see,” she says. “I was even thinking about creating content for my finsta, and then you’re purposely creating terrible content so now I’m just too lazy and use my close friends story.”

Jessie is not alone in feeling tired and overwhelmed by endlessly “curating” even our most personal content. She’s also not alone in using Instagram’s close friend’s feature as a less time-consuming outlet. Many people have shifted their daily Instagram use to the stories feature exclusively, which is another reason the finsta is dying out. Lillian “Flex Mami” Ahenkan has such popular Instagram stories that she’s monetised her close friends, creating a private space for followers.

“I have never had a finsta, close friends or anything of the sort because I just don't like posting on social media that much to do it for free,” she says. “I spent almost seven years doing work on social media, only to come to the conclusion that audiences generally hate sponsored content, which meant that I felt limited on how to exploit my own effort without pissing people off. So I created a solution that allowed me to spend less time on the needs of randoms, and more time on mine and the people who consider themselves fans.”

With new platforms like TikTok taking over and features like close friends on the rise, it seems it’s not casual Instagram that’s killed the finsta, but the pure convenience of having only one account has blurred the two together. However, much like having a finsta, we shouldn’t conflate “casual” posts with a lack of curation. The millennial aesthetic might be over but the rise in blurry posts is just a new aesthetic to live up to. The finsta may be dead but its roots — performative authenticity — are still being reincarnated across all platforms, for better or worse.

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