McCarthy: Peeking into the world of private Instagrams

Within our public social media presences, there is a core of shrouded honesty.

Kate McCarthy

When I joined the legions of iPhone users in 2015, one of the first things I did was download Instagram. Shortly after that, friends nudged to “follow my secret Insta.” Guilelessly, I did, and made my own while I was at it. My first post featured me alone at my reception job, imitating a video of someone painfully covering Ed Sheeran’s “Thinking Out Loud.” Sometimes called a secret Insta, a ‘sinsta’, sometimes called a fake Insta, a ‘finsta’, private Instagrams are nebulous gems of expression, and are hard to pin down yet ubiquitous.

My first few secret Insta posts continued to skew benign and goofy — videos and pictures taken at a Bernie Sanders rally, at a bus stop on a late Wednesday night, in my freshman dorm as I peered close into the camera. But more serious fare began to appear as well — posts addressing fears concerning maintaining people’s love, chastising myself for poor self-care like all-nighters, expressing relationship struggles, posts about all sorts of loneliness. 

Sometimes random follow requests pop up. Sometimes slight acquaintances do as well, and you quietly remove them. Sometimes you make a post at 2 a.m. and delete it within minutes, while sometimes you make the most triumphant post in the world and return to it every so often to feed off that glow. Sometimes you go back to locate a post from the depths of your self-loathing, frustration and helplessness, and wonder how you climbed out of that hole. You don’t remember exactly how, despite having the time marked in pictures along the way, but you’re glad you did.

Though a somewhat toxic habit, I love to go back and look at my secret Insta posts from exactly a year ago on any given day, which can be both bolstering and disappointing. Then I end up scrolling to the top, retracing my steps until this very moment, when perhaps I’ve just posted a video of me lovingly terrorizing my roommate with a French accent. Everyone’s private Insta is different, from identifying terminology to content, but mine has been a constant to me in recent years. Sure, social media is public and performative by nature, but it’s possible to carve out private niches. This is the account for half of half of half the followers, twice the posts, and a combination of raw emotion met with digital age immediate gratification. 

Some friends’ accounts I follow are extremely honest and often bleak, and I end up feeling all at once a holy reverence for my admission into this select group, and also a feeling of utter intrusion. I’m under the influence of the illusion that I really know this person and am in their life, but it doesn’t quite have the same dimension. My own account is about updating far flung friends en masse, looking for connection amidst the spontaneity of day to day that you may not need to broadcast to your larger circle, but want to revel in with your smaller one. 

It’s certainly jarring when the disconnect manifests between truly knowing someone, versus harsh exposure to the most honest fiber of their life. Is such a split between your private and public self healthy? I’m not sure, but I can refer to my small group of die-hard finsta friends to kick around some thoughts and wring even a little bit more connection out of the day.