Instagram’s additional features have offered its users with a myriad of options to personalise their posts and page, giving each user the freedom/autonomy to control how their content is viewed by others. These features range from having your pictures archived, to more private features like ‘close friends’. One of the interesting features offered by Instagram is the ability to switch between two Instagram accounts, which can be used to further engineer the concept of a ‘finsta’, or a ‘fake Instagram’ account. Unlike in regular Instagram accounts, finsta users would disguise their names, as it is supposedly made to “embody the real person hidden behind the screen of their real or first Instagram account” and to create an avatar distant from their appearance in society. Having a finsta means that an Instagram user would have a secondary account to “share posts with a smaller, curated group of users”, being able to “conceal his/her identity, in a brand-new world, where photos are stripped of their saturation, where filters are non-existent and overthought captions are nowhere to be found” (Hoenig 2018). Due to the increasing usage of users having two accounts, Instagram developed the ‘close friends’ feature which can be used to limit posts to specific people. This makes it so that users can have a figurative ‘finsta’ without switching between two accounts. Generally, a finsta usually consists of pictures, videos, or any form of content that the users regard as a raw, and vulnerable representation of themselves. Most of this content is usually unimportant, and is often used to create a one-way projection of themselves; this can consist of compilations of funny pictures/videos, a minute-long video talking about their day-to-day experience, or stating their opinion on some topic or event.
There are various reasons why people would filter their content like this. Perhaps it is to maintain a close-knit friendship or maybe the second account or finsta is reserved for ‘behind-the-scenes’ experiences, and for pictures that are not ‘Instaworthy’ to be shown in the first Insta account. Another reason would be to escape the fear of being judged by peers or family members. I acknowledge that this notion predominantly caters to teenagers, and cannot be generalised for all Instagram users. Nevertheless, this finsta phenomenon persists, as “one of the last refuges of the authentic online self” (The Verge, 2018). But why shouldn’t we make one anyway? Is it that big of a deal?
The More Accounts, the Merrier?
Herein lies the paradox between signing up for a finsta, or having our Insta stories ‘close friend’-ed, whereby people indiscreetly try to share to as many people as they can, but at the same time limiting this content to particular people. These people often exclude parents or family members for the fear that they may be judged based on what they post. One one hand, to limit information is not something that is inherently wrong. However, to do it because we want to live double lives is sinful. This behaviour is also evident among self-proclaimed Christians who put Bible verses, or Biblical quotes in their primary Instagram page, but afterwards switch to their second account to complain about something or someone, and essentially gossip. In contrast to their first account, their finsta displays a different side of themselves, completely detached from their Christian persona. Hence, this is when one’s finsta becomes an avenue for a hypocritical life as they encapsulate themselves between two perfectly ‘self-constructed’ worlds. They use good and pleasant means, but only for the sake of appearing and feeling good about themselves in front of others. Christian hypocrites lead a double life, entering the church by Saturday or Sunday, but leaving the weekdays to themselves and their fleshly desires—oblivious to the pointlessness of the reality they live in. We would justify living in such a condition by saying that it is a fulfillment of our so-called demand in freedom of expression; in which we validate these unimportant contents on our Instagram as the means to reach it. The reason in doing this may seem very simple and innocent, to have some semblance of individualism in our lives, a way to say “my life/insta, my rules!”; But is the crux of the matter that simple? This theme of transparency and cynicism shows one of the core principles of the postmodern era we currently live in.
The Worldview Under the Mask
Postmodernism is a philosophical worldview that denies the reality of an objective or absolute truth—especially in relation to religion or spirituality. This viewpoint is held true by many in our current society and is reflected in their actions and intentions. We see individuals start idolising themselves, and some even becoming self obsessed; in this case, towards their mediated-selves on Instagram finstas. There are also those who idolise other people by accepting everything “as it is”, in order to avoid conflict. Terms such as “don’t judge others” are highly encouraged in a postmodern society. However, we can see that these words and actions are pointless because they do not have any foundation to lie upon. The apostle Paul warns us against people like these:
‘[They] exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things’ (Romans 1:23 ESV)
These postmodernists see themselves as the measure of all things. They see themselves fit to determine their ‘rights’ or ‘wrongs’, hence everything should be tailored merely to what seems pleasing to their eyes. In general, social media users will continue to seek authenticity, craving a realness of self. Through finstas, we attempt to live this double identity and define ourselves by using these pictures, videos, stories, and captions. These two representations of the self reflect a person who adopts a dualistic worldview—where one views the sacred and the profane as within separate realms which could not or should not be reconciled. The dualistic worldview violates the fact that Christ should be exalted, glorified in all domains of our lives. What we have to realise here is that, when one identifies him/herself as a Christian, then Christ should be the core, the centre of their lives (1 Pet 3:15 ESV). As the Dutch statesman and theologian, Abraham Kuyper once stated, “If Christ, is not the Lord of all, He is not the Lord at all.”. We must realise that everything we do either glorifies God or goes against Him.
Coram Deo: In Instagram, as it is everywhere in life
We may not know this, but in every action of our lives, on social media or otherwise, we are revealing something of ourselves. When we do, it warrants examination—what kind of person are we projecting to the world? Are we posting this as someone who is joined to Christ in one Spirit? Or as a hypocrite who still aims to claim this domain of instagram as ‘ours’? Let us be aware of the fact that identifying ourselves as Christians comes with a necessary consequence. Said consequence is that we are to live coram Deo, or ‘before the face of God’. The world sees this consequence as something completely different, as they see only the risk of being judged by others for our radical life. For instance, when choosing not to post something to a finsta, or a regular Instagram—they might be constrained to do so out of fear in being judged by their followers, or those who view their posts. But for Christians, we realise that we are to live coram Deo, meaning that everything must be done in obedience, to please God. Pleasing Him means to “know nothing of evil” (Psalm 101:4 ESV), and not setting his eyes to worthless things (Ps 101:3 ESV), this not only includes examining what we post, but how we post it on Instagram. We cannot profess to be Christians and yet also be slaves to the world and its desires. ‘For everything in the world—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life—comes not from the Father but from the world’ (1 John 2:16 ESV).
When we live coram Deo—do realise that we are accountable for all our actions, online or offline. And acknowledging this fact should lead all our actions to be acts of obedience that is done out of gratitude in Christ. Living before the face of God means that we acknowledge His’ sovereignty in all things, which includes our online presence. Being obedient to Him is not solely out of a fearful submission, instead, out of thankfulness having known that it is His’ grace alone that allows us to obey and be living sacrifices for Him, our Creator. ‘And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him.’ (Col 3:17 ESV). A comfort lies in the Holy Spirit, who assists us in obedience to God, to resemble and conform to the Master. It is in obedience to Him, who offers light so that we do not need to conceal ourselves with ‘anything’ outside of Him. Coram Deo, there is not a single situation in our life that allows us to ‘tune-out’ from God. Because we are either for or against Him, as stated in Matt. 6:24, ‘No one can serve two masters, for either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and money.’ (Mat. 6:24 ESV). We have to be sure that everything that we do should be made to display the will of God. Are we doing so as we decide to tap the ‘close friends’ button, and take a picture on our camera?
It is important to be critical in viewing our conduct as Christians on social media—in the midst of endless options to new features, we can be easily allured with this world and what it has to offer. As Christians, who are joined to Christ in one Spirit (1 Cor. 6:19)—we are to be “set apart for His use, and our bodies must be kept as His, whose they are and fit for His use and residence” (Henry, 1706) in all domains of life. And we must remember that our identity as Christians is not encapsulated in a single domain as we resort to social media. Therefore, all of our actions should be done for the glory of God and the good of our neighbours, so that ‘whether [we] eat or drink, or whatever [we] do, do all to the glory of God’ (1 Cor 10:31). Pray that your presence on Instagram will lead to “the magnifying of Christ, winning of the lost, everlasting joy of all people and the glory of God” (Piper, 2018).(AEM)
Julia Ross. Retrieved from https://socialmedia.umich.edu/blog/the-finsta-fascination/
Mahaney, C. (2008). Worldliness (1st ed., pp. 36-67). Illinois: Crossway.
Matthew Henry Complete Bible Commentary Online. (1706). Retrieved from https://www.biblestudytools.com/commentaries/matthew-henry-complete/
New York Magazine. (2017). Retrieved from http://nymag.com/selectall/2017/05/instagram-wants-users-to-make-second-finstagram-accounts.html
Piper, J. (2018). How Can We Tweet to the Glory of God?. Retrieved from https://www.desiringgod.org/interviews/how-can-we-tweet-to-the-glory-of-god
Sarah Hoenig. (2018). Retrieved from https://studybreaks.com/culture/finsta-2/
The Verge. (2017). Retrieved from https://www.theverge.com/2017/6/23/15856858/instagram-favorites-private-sharing-friends-list