Home Featured News What are finstas and how are they impacting young adults’ mental health?

What are finstas and how are they impacting young adults’ mental health?

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Aaron Voogt (left) and Tessa Osborne (Right) posing ironically in a mirror that says "okay to cry." (Tessa Osborne/The Collegiate)

A couple of years ago, it was safe to say that nearly every college student had an Instagram account, but today it’s normal for students to run two or more accounts.

Although a second Instagram, or better known as a “finsta” (fake Instagram account) or spam account, may be a common thing for people from Generation Z, anyone else who hasn’t been touched by this trend may be confused by the purpose of having more than one social media account.

“Finsta” accounts originally began to pop up in 2016 with the idea that people could post their more authentic selves, free of filtered pictures. Spam accounts hold a more personal atmosphere and let the viewer see a real glimpse of someone’s life aside from the typical main post. These secondary accounts are almost always private, meaning one has to request to follow someone’s spam account. This allows the owner to control who is seeing their posts which tends to be close friends.

The amount of personal information shared on a spam account varies. Some spam accounts are primarily used to post things like memes or silly photos of someone’s face but other accounts can go much deeper than that.

Scrolling down a news feed filled with spam posts, one can see anything from partying, drug use, mental health scares, pictures depicting guns and nude photos.

Kyle Steinke, 21, of Rockford, follows a majority of spam accounts that post memes, but a select few post content that go a bit further than a simple meme. Steinke lists off the other spam content he sees aside from memes.

“Lots of alcohol, lots of drugs, lots of drugs posed next to money,” Steinke said. “A few instances of weapons, not very often though, a couple, not of ill intent that I’ve seen though.”

Seeing posts containing content like this can raise concern in an outsider’s eyes. Spam accounts can give people a false sense of security, making people feel safe posting pictures or videos of them getting drunk, showing off their weapons and flaunting their drugs because they are on private accounts. This sense of security can easily be broken with a simple screenshot and share for one post to go public.

Olivia Patterson, 19, a Grand Rapids Community College student, said she had a spam account with about 50 followers where she posted pictures of her partying, but later decided to delete it with concern that future employers would be able to find her account. Patterson explained her paranoia regarding the account.

“I had friends who had spam accounts, and my friend got denied a job because someone used (the spam account) as blackmail,” Patterson said. “And that’s why I didn’t go too personal with my posts either.”

Some people use their spam accounts as a platform to call out people who have hurt them. Posts like this can vary between talking vaguely about someone without using their name or bluntly calling them out. Much like the comfortability that people have to publish images of them with drugs or weapons, spam accounts give people a sense that they are safer to call people out on their spam accounts because of the controlled views and low amount of followers.

Tessa Osborne | The Collegiate Live Stella Spero’s Finsta where she posts privately about her life.

Stella Spero, 20, of Rockford, created her spam account in 2017 and currently has 81 followers on her private account. Spero explained why she called people out on her spam for not respecting what she was going through at the time.

“I really did it to prove a point,” Spero said. “These two people were bothering me, and I knew they would be together when I posted it. So I knew they would see it at the same time, and I knew that they would talk about it. So I guess I posted it to be petty, but also to let people know what’s going on in my life.”

Aside from flaunting money, calling people out and social status, some people use their spam accounts as an outlet to express their mental health struggles. These mental health posts can vary from struggles with anxiety, depression or even suicide.

Mackenzie Niece, 19, of Kent City, follows several spam accounts and spoke out about how she reacts to spam posts regarding suicide.

“My brother’s best friend commited suicide, so it sucks,” Niece said. “It bugs me a lot. I’m always on top of it, and I’ll message them because I’ve been there and I’ve tried, too. So I get it.“

Spam accounts can give the user a safe space to express their struggles with mental health.

Alex Kramer, 22, of Grand Rapids, explains what he thinks is the positive impact that spam accounts have for those who need a space to communicate their journey with mental health.

”I think being able to put (mental health) out, having that fake account is actually kind of a good thing at least, it seems to be for people,” Kramer said. “(A spam account is) a place where you can put that out publicly and if it’s a restricted account, then you know who’s going to be able to see it and you know you’re not going to get negative reactions from people. And it’s just kind of a positive way to express the way you feel about something whether that’s mental or physical health.”

Adelle Cadieux, a psychologist from Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital discusses why she thinks people feel safe posting the intimate details of their mental health online.

“People… kind of go into it when they’re sharing some pretty deep emotional feelings and things like that,” Cadieux said. “I think some of that, is just sort of cathartic.‘I just need to get this out and not keep it in anymore’ and it’s not about the response, it’s more about just expressing yourself.”

Expressing and opening up oneself is an important part to accepting the problems you’re facing, but there can also be dangers concerning how the people looking at your posts react. Cadieux explained that although sharing can be productive in making some feel better, for others it may be the opposite.

“For some people, (posting on social media) is very helpful to be able to express themselves and have others respond back with support, or with advice or guidance,” Cadieux said. “But for others, that can be actually a very negative experience, they may not get the type of support they were looking for or they might not get the responses they were hoping for which can reinforce their negative feelings.”

It is also important to understand that  support and help from friends and family who mean well it is not always reliable. Cadieux spoke of how misinformation on mental health can spread through reaching out for support over social media.

“You may find that some people may give you information that is very inaccurate because they’re not mental health professionals,” Cadieux said. “They’re just other people who are experiencing similar symptoms. So not only will you get inaccurate information, but you will also get mixed information.”

There is a line between a need to cathartically share with a select few followers on Instagram the stress or anxiety that one feels, and sharing things that only a therapist will know how to help with. For students, the cost of a therapist may not be their top priority, but Cadieux emphasizes the importance of investing in one’s mental health.

Cadieux says that if someone begins to notice anything that is impacting the function of their daily lives like disruption in sleep, lack of motivation to do the things you once loved to do, and loss of appetite, they should see a therapist. These symptoms should be taken just as seriously as if someone felt their ankle hurting, and would go to a doctor to get it checked out.

Although mental illness is not visible or painful in the same way as a broken arm or leg, it should be just as important to go to a therapist for it like someone with a broken arm would go to a doctor, Cadieux said.

Although spam accounts can have their red flags with posts pertaining to drug use and guns, young adults find spam accounts to be a safe space for them to express their struggles with mental health. They are able to reach out to their friends who are posting about depression and grow closer through the more personal content that spams contain.