January 2018 (Volume 68, Issue 3)
By Aisha Tipnis, Staff Writer
Like many other Needham High School students, I tend to procrastinate by logging on to the social media platform Instagram, wasting away minutes turned to hours scrolling through my feed. Recently, the majority of these posts I scroll through are coming from “finstas,” a word coined by the internet to mean “fake Instagrams.” On these accounts, Instagram users choose to have a small, more selective following than their “main” accounts with the purpose of showing an uninhibited side of themselves.
However, though at their genesis meant to be comedic, finstas have quickly morphed into a breeding ground of negativity. Gone are the funny posts, captivating stories, or relatable rants – the content that tends to be posted now is purely the user complaining about their daily woes.
Language has more importance than we realize, and the language we use today, especially on finstas, tends to be more decisive and violent than we notice. As renown author George Orwell noted, “If thought corrupts language, language can also corrupt thought.” While we choose to say what we think, we are more likely to think certain things based on the language that we have available. We must choose our words very carefully, because using phrases like the typical “I’m going to die, high school is so hard” has serious implications that we have become desensitized to.
Orwell further articulated this idea in his essay Politics and the English Language, writing, “A man may take to drink because he feels himself to be a failure, and then fail all the more completely because he drinks. It is rather the same thing that is happening to the English language. It becomes ugly and inaccurate because our thoughts are foolish, but the slovenliness of our language makes it easier for us to have foolish thoughts.” Our expression of simple nuisances in our lives has made our language sloppy, as words having extremely important connotations have become inconsequential, and thus what we express becomes sloppy because the language of our environment is as well. For example, when we see a friend using the phrase “kill myself” to mean that they are upset, we then accept “kill myself” as synonymous to upset. We continue to slowly lose the true denotation of the phrase, ignoring the significant connotations it has in society. This desensitization is a defining feature of a phenomenon I have coined as “finsta culture,” a culture in which we use careless language to fixate on and inflate unimportant or manageable issues in our lives.
There are two major problems with this use of language through such a medium, the first of which is the loss of resiliency as a generation. When people complain about how their homework makes them “want to die” every night, the idea that everyone is dissatisfied with life itself becomes normalized. High schoolers then anticipate so much stress after seeing these posts that they become stressed as a byproduct, and subsequently believe that it is acceptable to let schoolwork be the end of their respective worlds.
The second major issue with “finsta culture” is that it hinders the ability of those needing legitimate help to get it. Many argue that the process of writing posts is cathartic and that posting this content is beneficial by creating an open environment for people to receive support. Unfortunately, these posts do the exact opposite. The issue is that we are not fostering an environment in which those who are struggling can reach out, but an environment in which they are silenced and their struggles are invalidated by “big mood’s” and “kms’s”. Memes about not having a will to live are not, in fact, a user’s “mood” when all of the struggles of the user revolve around their high school curriculum. Those who have genuine medical reasons to be anxious or depressed are unable to differentiate themselves from insensitive students who decide to write that their Algebra II homework is a life-ending struggle that they are facing. It is inconsiderate and thoughtless to assume, or even indirectly imply, that one’s daily nuisances are comparable to debilitating mental illnesses.
Furthermore, those who genuinely need help come to the conclusion that posting on their finstas is an adequate replacement to reaching out to a trusted friend or adult. To begin with, followers are unable to differentiate calls for help from everyday ranting. Even if one can recognize a serious issue, one cannot be expected to have an appropriate response as they are not a professional nor are they an adult with the life experience, maturity, or tools to obtain help for the struggling user.
Additionally, triggers are not just a meme on the internet, but a legitimate problem that many people are forced to endure in their daily lives. These posts, regardless of validity, are not justifiable when they have the potential to physically and psychologically harm an unassuming high schooler trying to destress on social media. These triggering posts are not anticipated by followers who may themselves be struggling, so while it is important to reach out and get help, Instagram is not a suitable medium to do so.
We are losing both our resiliency and our empathy, creating a “finsta culture” of insensitive and inconsequential speech. It is our job to remedy the flaws that we have introduced into the English language, and we can do so by choosing our words carefully. People who need genuine help should be encouraged to talk to a professional or reach out to a friend instead of posting triggering content to unassuming followers, and those who abuse the English language by writing tactless content and letting themselves fall prey to a culture of negativity need to take a deep breath and log off of their finstas. Words have immense power, and we need to recognize that by speaking with care. The pen may be mightier than the sword, but the keyboard is mightier than the pen.