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Being Real on Fake Instagram: Likes, Images, and Media Ideologies of Value



This article elucidates how some users of the app Instagram follow particular rules—shaped by the medium's material constraints and affordances as well as social norms and pressures—to get as many likes as possible. I demonstrate how my interlocutors, young adult women in the United States, strategize their Instagram usage with creative practices in an effort to successfully accrue likes. But the pressure to perform in such a way lead some of them to create secondary accounts called “fake Instagrams” where these rules could be broken and users believe they can be more authentic. I analyze the importance of likes to social media use and how this feature structures the media ideologies users hold. Demonstrating how users trade the value of likes in one mode of Instagram for the value of authenticity in another, I show that media ideologies and media switching—conventionally analyzed between media—occur within them as well. These ideologies determine how users project different selves within a single medium, selves which are in dialogue with one another on social media.
Being Real on Fake Instagram: Likes, Images, and Media Ideologies of Value
Scott Ross, George Washington University
[Note: This journal article was published in the Journal of Linguistic Anthropology on May 7, 2019. This
is the pre-print, post-peer review version of the article. For the final version, and for citation
reference, please go to If you do not have access to JLA feel
free to contact me at scottandrewross [at] gmail [dot] com and I can share a pdf.]
Abstract: This article elucidates how some users of the app Instagram follow particular rules
shaped by the medium's material constraints and affordances as well as social norms and
pressuresto get as many likes as possible. I demonstrate how my interlocutors, young adult
women in the United States, strategize their Instagram usage with creative practices in an effort to
successfully accrue likes. But the pressure to perform in such a way lead some of them to create
secondary accounts called “fake Instagrams” where these rules could be broken and users believe
they can be more authentic. I analyze the importance of likes to social media use and how this
feature structures the media ideologies users hold. Demonstrating how users trade the value of likes
in one mode of Instagram for the value of authenticity in another, I show that media ideologies and
media switchingconventionally analyzed between mediaoccur within them as well. These
ideologies determine how users project different selves within a single medium, selves which are in
dialogue with one another on social media.
Keywords: social media, media ideology, value, media switching
Ross | 1
“Instagram is very time-consuming if you let it be.” This is how one college student
described the popular photo-sharing app. Indeed, while posting to Instagram is fairly simple, using it
can be quite laborious. Frequently checking it is one way it’s so time-consuming, but once they see a
post, users’ options are actually quite limitedthey can like it, comment, or do nothing before
scrolling on. Posting also only takes a few stepsphotograph, edit, and post, with optional filter,
caption, and locationbut these steps can require considerable effort. Take Emily, for example.
When I asked the college sophomore what posting typically looked like, she began: “I used to play
around more with different apps but now I pretty exclusively only use VSCO Cam and Aviary, those
are my two favorites, and then there’s one other app that lets you frame your thing, that I have,
that’s called Instafit. So, okay, so that’s three apps.” She laughed at the realization, then continued:
I use three apps, um, pretty religiously, before I Instagram it, just because it gives you, like,
more freedom and there are different filters and each app has, like, things that it’s better at,
so it’s nice to get exactly what you’re looking for with the photograph. Um, so I’ll, like, I’ll
take a photo or somebody will take a photo of me, and then I’ll just um edit it until I feel
happy with it and then I usually don’t post it right away because I think that captions are
really important. So I’ll wait until I think of a caption, and then I’ll post it when I think that
the caption is adequate.1
When I asked if she paid attention to when she posted, Emily cringed. “I do!” she admitted. “I do
think about when to post, because like, if I think of a caption at like 1:00am, I’m not going to—like,
because nobody’s up then, nobody’s going to see it—so, like, I’ll wait until like the late morning or
afternoon.” This process, which for Emily sometimes includes asking friends for advice about filters,
running captions by roommates to see if they’re funny, or texting photos to her sister for her
opinion, culminates in a single Instagram post. Sharing an image with others is a social act, of
course, but here we see that posting to Instagram is a deeply thought out and social process.
It wasn’t always this way. A few years ago, Emily edited several photos from a family
vacation and posted them all within a two-day period. “I used it more like a photo album than, like,
‘this is the like quintessential photo for this thing,’ like, there’s more importance in each photo than
I thought.” Over time, she became more selective in her posting. “There was definitely like a
difference in response when I started posting thingsI started to get itstarted posting less often,
and also started posting content that not just I would enjoy, but that I enjoyed and wanted to share
with other people.” Since conforming to these norms, however, Emily has felt constrained by the
limits of what she can post on Instagram. While continuing to use her main Instagram account in
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this way, she has sought other forms of representation by turning to a secondary account, her “fake”
Instagram or finsta2, where she shares more candid moments with just her closest friends.
In 2016, I issued a call at my university for respondents who used Instagram to be part of a
study about finstas. All of the respondents were young women college students from different parts
of the U.S., most of whom used multiple Instagram accounts, several even before college (all were
familiar with the practice). I conducted fifteen open-ended interviews as well as eight “tours” during
which I looked through accountssome primary, some finstaasking users questions about their
posts. Interviews centered on image-making and -sharing processes, revealing complex norms and
how to breach them. The data thus comes from a specific timeInstagram and the broader media
ecology have changed since3and conveys a particularly gendered experience. This is thus not an
exhaustive account of the ways Instagram is used, but the data presented here is one example of the
multifaceted forms of social media use, focusing on how my interlocutors use a single medium in
divergent ways.
Recent scholarship on social media has developed a better understanding of how users
communicate or perform differently on different platformswith the idea that, from a range of
options in a media ecology, people hold media ideologies about what each medium is for based on
its structure, limits, and affordances (Gershon 2010a, 2010b). Discerning how people use media
requires that we study “how people understand both the communicative possibilities and the
material limitations of a specific channel” (Gershon 2010a: 283). But these ideologies and choices
are not only made between media. Users have multiple ideologies and switch between different
communicative forms within the same platform, directed at different audiences. Media ideologies about
Instagram create new ways of using the app which have their own aesthetics, publics, and message.
Ilana Gershon (2010b:391) defines media ideologies as “people’s beliefs, attitudes, and
strategies about the media they use [and] the assumptions that people hold about how a medium
accomplishes communicative tasks.” These ideologies shape people’s decisions to switch between
media. Building on semiotic (Keane 2003) and linguistic ideology (Schieffelin et al. 1998), media
ideology offers a narrowed focus on the material limits and possibilities of particular media
technologies. The ideologies people hold about media reveal assumptions about how media work,
such as which media index intimacy (Gershon 2010b, Fisher 2013), which lend themselves to
authenticity (Eisenlohr 2010), and which are perceived to allow for directness (Kunreuther 2010) or
engagement in the public sphere (Vidali 2010). Such assumptions about media are particularly
evident when it comes to cellular phones (Dent 2018), as well as the myriad apps they carry.
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While new media such as cell phones or apps are freighted with numerous media ideologies
(Dent 2018), such newness is always constructed (Gershon 2017). New media “emerge from within
cultural contexts, and they refashion other media, which are embedded in the same or similar
contexts”—a process Bolter and Grusin (1999:17) label remediation, through which media are
enmeshed in relation to each other. But what makes media new is not how recently they emerged
but whether they offer new ways to coordinate utterances, participant structures, and identity
(Gershon 2017). Media ideologies help us see that remediation is not only about the relation
between media, but rather about “the continuities and frictions of certain media and language
ideologies as they are engaged by social actors who are evaluating, using, and producing a range of
media and communication modalities” (Vidali 2010:373).
My interlocutors’ assumptions and expectations about Instagram dictated how they
communicated on the app. These constraints pushed them to create another genre of Instagram
with its own audience and affordances, which they switched between regularly. These different
ideologies and switching practices occur within what is typically described as a single medium. The
media ideologies that users have about one type of Instagram versus the other shape the ways that
they understand the affordances and limits of Instagram in each instance. These varying perceptions
of media and their purposes are shaped by the type of publics that they speak to.
Warner (2002:50) describes a public which “comes into being only in relation to texts and
their circulation” and “exists by virtue of being addressed.” A message is engaged through its
mediumbe it a journal article or an Instagram postand carries with it the constraints and
affordances of that medium. An Instagram public, for example, exists on the app, enabling particular
types of communication shaped by social norms about the medium as well as its material
capabilities. Warner’s public is not merely an audience, but is “a dynamic mode of subjectivity
associated with text production and reception,” an orientation to such texts “endowed with
particular rhythms of call and response” (Dent 2018:582). My interlocutors engage in multiple
Instagrams according to their own rhythms and expectations, working to accumulate likes or express
authenticity in different instances. As the media ideologies my interlocutors had about Instagram
became too strict, they did not attempt to break taboos on their accounts, nor did they abandon the
app altogetherinstead they turned to finstas. In their view, on Instagram one has to put forth an
image that is aesthetically pleasing, funny, or interesting. Finstas, by contrast, allow users to be self-
deprecating, goofy, or ugly. The taboos of Instagram can be traversed on finsta; by using a “fake”
account, one could be more real. In this way, finstas might be conceived of as parallel or counter
Ross | 4
publics which exist alongside and are entangled with other genres of Instagram. Dewey (2009: 124-
125) describes the parallel public sphere as one which allows minoritized groups to discuss taboos,
but “is neither subversive nor a complete instrument of domination” because it “is as much a
consequence of oppression as an agent of it.” In a different context and manner, finstas act as a sort
of parallel public insofar as women use them to break free from constraints of representation on
their main Instagram accounts. They use finstas to speak back to the expectations of an Instagram
media ideology which demands that they post only beautiful, witty, likable content, in a society that
regularly dictates how women are seen. But they do so not instead of conforming to norms on
Instagram, but while continuing to perform and conform to that set of expectations on their main
Instagrams. The two forms of Instagram are deeply tied to each other, as how people think
Instagram should be used is at the heart of why finstas exist.
In recent years, youth have migrated away from social media platforms like Facebook
towards Instagram and Snapchat.4 Yet we have little understanding of how people use Instagram. The
practice of using two Instagram accounts has proliferated in the social circles of American youth for
whom Instagram is an important part of socializing. By looking at these examples of social media
use, we can examine new forms of self-representation and specific ideologies and practices of social
media use that reveal how users understand the multiplicities of social media as channels for
communication. Instagram involves both production and consumption, and building and
maintaining social relations online have rightly been viewed through the lens of labor5; in some
instances the value that this labor seeks to gain is embodied in the like, while in other instances it is
concerned with realness. Attending to this labor and its motivations reveals the nuances of social
media communication.
In this article, I explore the impetus behind the posting practices outlined above, the labor
and creativity that goes into making successful Instagram posts, and how some users have sought to
practice Instagram otherwise through finstas. My main argument is that, despite having a range of
media choices, social media users can hold multiple media ideologies within a single medium,
engaging in different ways of communicating on the same channel through intra-platform media
switching. I contrast their primary accounts, used to accrue value by gaining likes, with their finstas,
where they enact a sort of authenticity. This reformulates theoretical concepts about media
ideologies, media switching, and remediation to occur not only between but within channels of
communication. It thus also challenges what constitutes a discrete medium, as users toggle between
different forms of communication within what is thought to be a single channel. In the first section,
Ross | 5
I argue that Instagram imbues images with a particular form of value, the like, which shapes how and
why they post on the platform. The social practices and strategies deployed by users in pursuit of
likes is described in the second section, where I explore how users try to produce content to be liked.
In the third section, I show how, finding this ideology and practice too constraining, some created a
new genre of Instagram, the finsta, and I explore how they navigate between these two social media
forms. By looking at these forms, we can understand the complexities of the social media landscape
and how users navigate them, tacking from one form of communication to another as needed. One
way of communicating can fill the gaps of another, even in the same medium, reshaping the medium
itself in the process.
Media Ideologies of Instagram: “The
Emily’s posting process is not uncommon. Lauren explained: “Everything I do on Instagram
is pretty much strategic.” Communicating on Instagram is not as simple as uploading a picture
getting the filter, caption, and timing right takes work. In speaking with youth in and out of this
study, a media ideology requiring that Instagram posts be carefully curated emerged frequently. Part
of this ideology is structured by Instagram itself, as manifested in the ability to like pictures.6 When
posting an image, many said they think seriously about whether or not others would like it. The life
of an image extends beyond the moment of its creation and is “marked through successive moments
of consumption across space and time” (Edwards 2012:222).7 Each viewer who does or does not like
an image shapes its social biography. The social lives of images on Instagram are deeply entangled in
processes of production and reception as well as economies of attention, consumption, and
appreciation. Central to these is a now ubiquitous feature of social media: the like (see also Gerlitz
and Helmond 2013).
Scarlet described her thought process in these terms: “I want to be original and be myself,
but I also want to try and post something that is guaranteed to get a good amount of likes.” The
importance of likes is an example of how “the structure of a technology helps to shape the
participant structure brought into being through its use” (Gershon 2010a:285). As technology writer
Navneet Alang (2016) says, one’s audience on social media “is a thing you forever create and that
creates you at the same time. To have an audience at all is to be relentlessly concerned with how you
will be read.” As users post—on Instagram and elsewherethey seek likes from this audience. This
process was evident in Ann’s succinct theorization: “The reason we all use Instagram is for the likes
factor, um, and to make sure people are recognizing us and seeing us how we want to be seen…
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Likes, that’s like the whole purpose of Instagram.” These users strategized how best to present
themselves in order to attain more likes (Goffman 1956).
Likes are central to the formulation of the media ideology described here. But, as we will see
below, it isn’t the only way of using Instagram, and in fact has pushed some adherents to create
other forms of Instagram. If each app exists in relation to other choices (Gershon 2010a), this
multiplication of Instagram forms complicates where we delineate media when discussing media
ecology, media ideology, and media switching. When describing her Instagram accounts, Scarlet
elaborated two distinct types of speech on the same platform:
I am pretty specific about what I post on my main Instagram. There’s a lot of thought that
goes into what I post… I post pictures of me with other people when I think I look good or
it’s a nice picture in an interesting setting… Ultimately finding the balance between being
myself, showing variety in what I post when I can, and gaining likes is what drives my
My finsta is an entirely different story. I post things on finsta of funny things I’ve experienced
or witnessed. It’s usually texts between my family members and I, or a selfie of me with a
concise but detailed overview of something that’s happened to me… I am completely myself
on finsta and don’t care about likes or anything.
Each account has its own ideology, and each one portrays a different self shaped by this ideology. If
technology structures how people use it, this isn’t lost on users themselves. “It is not… that I am
simply lost in the frippery of the everyday,” Alang (2016) reflects in his essay on subjectivity and
social media. “Rather, each platform offers broad structural and economic incentives for me to
perform in a particular way.” Instagram is a way to share moments in visual form—with priority
going to the big event, the beautiful vacation, the nice mealwhat Alang describes as “the beautiful
and the conspicuously consumed.” Users are keenly aware that social media shapes their subjectivity.
While describing the posting process, Emily called it “a game” that needed to be played, and Lauren
called herself “crazy” for how she used Instagram. Instagram is not merely a structure that imposes
constraints on users, but users actively create these constraints, while also working strategically to
navigate them well.
Instagram’s likes operate similar to voting on Reddit, where Banks (2013) argues that votes
do not “highlight the best content” but rather “build and maintain hegemony.” On Reddit, the
number of votes a post receives moves it up or down the page, increasing the visibility of popular
posts. Similarly, Instagram’s algorithmic newsfeed promotes popular content, prioritizing content it
thinks each user will enjoy (or like?)8. I go further, arguing that because users seek likes, they notice
the number of likes posts receive, and act accordingly. The more that people post to Instagram with
Ross | 7
likes in mind, the more likes shape what they post. These preferences are learned through practice, as
Scarlet suggested: “These rules are learned from experience with posting as well as looking at other
people’s Instagrams. When we see something we like, we follow suit. When we don’t, we learn to
avoid it.” It is in this way that the structure of Instagram shapes how users present themselves
online, to the extent that many of my interlocutors would conflate their own opinion about what
constituted a good picture with what would receive likes.
Looking at the way likes shape posting practices also sheds light on the broader visual
economy at play. Deborah Poole’s concept of visual economy helps us see “images as part of a
comprehensive organization of people, ideas, and objects” (1997:8). When posting to Instagram,
users are thinking of what constitutes a good image and what it says about them, but also how their
audience will respond to it. When I asked Scarlet whether she asked for advice on posting, she said
that such conversations “are more based around the question, ‘Do you think I should Instagram
this?’ which is basically asking whether the picture is worthy of being posted. I think both the
question of whether the picture has likes potential and if it’s generally just a good picture are implied
in that one question.” These two questions are one and the same: if a picture is good, it should get
likes; if people like something, it must be good. Instagram’s features structure what is “worthy”
through the expectation of likes—an image’s “likes potential.” Such thinking anticipates an image’s
value in the visual economy of Instagram.
In their discussion of the ways Facebook’s like feature changed the internet, Gerlitz and
Helmond (2013) look at how such social buttons reorganized web content and traffic around social
media (rather than the preceding hit and link economy) and changed the nature and production of
economic value on the internet. One effect of this change is that likes “transform users’ affective,
positive, spontaneous responses to web content into a number on the Like counter and are made
comparable” (1358, see also Thayne 2012, Paasonen 2016). I am interested in this process, through
which Instagram’s like function produces a quantifiable value in the post itself, and how the quest
for that value structures the ways that users post and view their posts.
When I asked Lauren to show me some of her favorite posts, she immediately responded:
“Well, I know which one got the most likes and selected a photo from a family trip. Half blue sky
and half blue sea, the image is centered on Lauren wading in the water. It signifies both an artistic
eye and an economic and social privilege that allows for travel. That Lauren’s first response when
asked about this photo was to refer to its likesher first post to get over two hundred
demonstrates the conflation of liking an image and liking an image. Over the course of its social life,
Ross | 8
accruing likes had made the image more valuable. This is another example of the features of
Instagram shaping users’ ways of seeing.
Several interlocutors expected to receive likes from particular people, especially close friends.
In one interview, Lauren feigned frustration at not garnering more likes: “It’s got to be like at least a
hundred [likes]. And, like, my friend and I, we’ll always be like, ‘why aren’t more people liking it?
Like, we deserve so many more likes, this is so annoying.’” When I asked what happened if she
didn’t get many likes, she replied: “I’ll just get like really pissed, and I’ll be like, ‘I like all of your
pictures, why is no one liking [mine]?’” Her mock angry tone elided a quite real belief in a system of
reciprocity. Later, she described her “loyal likers” as people she can count on to like her posts.
Audrey described how a roommate asked if she had seen a postone that she had in fact seen, but
had not likedand the awkwardness of negotiating the obligation to like friends’ photos. It is not
enough for followers to see your post as a passive audience; liking is itself a communicative act in
response to a post, and is central to that post’s successful reception. Here we see the reciprocity of
likesobligations to give and receive among close friends, and feelings of earned entitlement to a
particular amount of attention, and thus, value. If likes are gifts of appreciation, they are gifts one is
obligated to give but can also demand, depending on social relations (Mauss 1990 [1950]).
To the extent that Instagram images exist within a visual economy, the currency in this
economy is the attention and engagement of one’s followers, manifested in the like (Goldhaber
1997; Roberts 2012, Terranova 2012, Citton 2017). A public is, after all, “only realized through
active uptake” and requires an attentive audience (Warner 2002:60). Attention is a sign of value, and
for many this attention is measured not in views but likes. In this visual/gift/attention economy, the
exchange of likes stands in for the value of the image itself, shaping and mediating relations through
the platform. Getting liked makes a post more valuable; the act of liking itself produces value.9 The
Instagram post is not only about the content being circulated, but about who sees it and how they
interact with it—or don’t.
“To address a public, we don’t go around saying the same thing to all of these people. We
say it in a venue of indefinite address and hope that people will find themselves in it” (Warner
2002:59). Instagram is one such venue, wherein users address their feeds and hope to catch their
followers’ attention and garner likes (Citton 2017). And when those hopes are dashed? “I’ve gotten
so concerned about how many likes something will get… that I’ll take a picture down less than a
minute after posting it,” Scarlet admitted. When I asked her to elaborate, she explained: “On my real
Instagram, I have around 650 followers, so I sort of expect anything I post to get several likes in the
Ross | 9
first few minutes. If that doesn’t happen, I’ll probably take it down.” If an image accrues likes, it is
successful; if not, it fails. Emily said that if a post got no likes in the first few minutes, she would
“take it down and just kind of pretend it didn’t happen, and I’ll post it later when I think more
people will be online.” This is one way that likes shape what is posted and when, what remains and
what gets deleted. But recall that Scarlet asked her friends if something had “likes potential”—if the
answer was no, she wouldn’t have posted it in the first place. In order to get posted on Instagram,
and to stay there, an image must elicit a response from its viewers; it must be liked. If your friend
sees a post without liking it, did she even see it?
The speed with which my interlocutors decided the fate of failed posts is no surprise in what
is perceived to be the compressed temporality of social media. One characteristic of a cellular public,
according to Dent (2018) is the “increased cycle of interaction such that the time between an
initiation of communication and a response to that initiation becomes almost instantaneous.
Paraphrasing Warner, Dent suggests that “the fact that a participant comes to anticipate a certain
periodicity of call and response becomes crucial to the way she experiences a given public” (Dent
2018: 593). My interlocutors’ anticipation of likes meant that second thoughts about posts must
move quickly to erase failed communicative acts. Thus, in an effort to maximize attention (i.e. likes),
users plan not only what they post, but when. When Emily admitted to thinking about when to post,
she explained: “maybe I’ll post like right at 9:30 because people are probably like waiting for their
9:35 [class] to start or something.” Time may already be compressed with the supposed immediacy
of the internet, but the importance of likes raises the stakes.
To become occupied by a social network is to internalize its gaze,” Alang (2016) writes. It
is to forever carry a doubled view of both your own mind and the platform’s.” It is in this gaze, the
likes factor media ideology, that we see how Instagram structures the production and circulation of
images, while also acting as a system through which images are evaluated and assigned value. This
leads us to “ask not what specific images mean but, rather, how images accrue value” (Poole
1997:10). The answer, laid bare by each of my interlocutors, is in the likes.
“The Science of Instagram”
If images get value from likes, the question remains of what users choose to postwhat they
think will get liked. Audrey referred to finding the “perfect balance” of image, editing, caption, and
timing as “master[ing] the science of Instagram.” Following this metaphor, I draw attention to how
Instagram users attempt to craft successful communicative acts through studied experience of
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Instagram usage, following the social lives of posts to determine if an image is valuable. Images are
“specifically made to have social biographies” (Edwards 2012:222), each indexing an experience and
eliciting reactions from viewers; as images are liked and commented on, these biographies deepen. If
likes are “the whole purpose of Instagram,” then getting your audience to like images is crucial. In
this section I describe users’ posting practices as part of a method that includes planning or selecting
images, expertly editing them, formulating captions, and timing posts. These steps, outlined in
Emily’s words in the introduction and further described here, are part of an effort to create
successful Instagram posts.
If Instagram is a science to be mastered, my interlocutors would be lay experts in the field.
Not corporate or celebrity accounts with tens of thousands of followers, these young women
circulate snippets of their lives among hundreds of friends and acquaintances. This included a
method learned through tested experience, consulting with others, and identifying authorizing
studies for guidance. Instagram becomes both the tool with which users establish expertise and the
medium through which they perform that expertise.
In terms of subject matter, most common were images of people or scenic viewsoften
marking special occasions. Parties, vacations, school events, adventures, and time with friends or
family all warranted documentation. One motif was an attempt to impress others. Ann, whose home
is by the beach in Florida, described a common theme on her Instagram as “I live where you
vacation.” Her Instagram archive since summer ended was mostly groups of people at parties and
events that indexed a social life at college. The dominant message of people’s posts, which signaled
social status, location, wealth, or beauty, could be summed up as a performance of how “cool” one
was, demonstrating a level of social capital.
In order to depict these experiences in a manner that maximized likes, images had to be
edited. Each of my interlocutors had their own aesthetic, but all mentioned editingbut not too
much. Emily acknowledged that under-edited, grainy photos were “just bad,” but warned about the
use of filters, pre-made editing tools that adjusted brightness, warmth, contrast, and other aspects of
images: “Filters can be great, filters can do wonders, amazing things filters can do. But if you like use
them too much or too strongly or too many of them at once it justthe integrity of the photo [is
covered].” The idea that editing tools might overshadow the image itself was premised on its
integritythe value of the image being prepared for dissemination, but also its potential to accrue
value in likes. In numerous interviews the filter emerged as a double-edged tool that could improve
an image if used correctly, but could easily send the message that one was trying too hard. In order
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to make an image look nice, but not over-edited, several interlocutors deployed an array of apps.
Bringing together multiple tools to edit images, they engaged in a sort of thick photography (Deger
2016:112). Images went through multiple apps prior to being shared, and once posted to one’s feed,
followers’ likes and comments continued to shape an image’s social biography.
The aesthetics of an image are partially determined by the editing tools available. But it was
not only affordances but also limitations of the app that shaped how users decided to post.
Captions, for example, needed to be funny or touching in order to accrue likes, but also had to
remain short. If a caption was more than three lines, the app abbreviated it, and according to my
interlocutors nobody would read past the “…more” button that abridged long captions—the app’s
structure dictated how long a worthwhile caption should be. This is but one example in which the
functions of the app actually constrain how likes-seeking users utilize its features.
In describing her Instagram process, Lauren admitted planning posts ahead of time with her
friend: “If we’re going somewhere where I know I’m going to Instagram, we’re like actually crazy,
but we’ll be like, ‘okay, we have to get us doing this.’” Others described similar plans. This is
emblematic of what Jurgenson (2011) calls social media’s tendency to make users “view the present
as an always potentially documented past.” Instagram shapes the ways of seeing that people enact as
vacations, parties, and meals become something to be shared visually as markers of “coolness. This
is not a particularly new way of seeing, of course (see Derrida 1995), but because of its popularity,
Instagram has had a scalar effect on how people interact with the world and share experiences. This
anticipation of posting to Instagram, through planning what to post and when, demonstrates the
temporal element of Instagram use. When Emily explained why she posted when her friends were a
captive audience waiting for class to start, she supported this by telling me she had “read a lot of
articles about” when to post. Scarlet told me she “saw a study once that 6pm on Wednesday is the
best time to post.” In this way they gestured towards expertise as they tried to create likable posts
(see Carr 2010).
Each post is placed in the user’s archive to be viewed anytime. I use the term archive
deliberately, countering Miller’s assertion that “as there are no albums for storage [on Instagram], all
interaction is transient and communicative, so the central role of memorialization is gone” (2015:8;
2016:87). If you follow someone, you can see their posts on your newsfeed or you can visit their
account and see everything they’ve posted. In fact, with the recent increase of ads and
implementation of an algorithmic rather than chronological feed during research, several people
mentioned going to specific accounts to see updates, signaling a move away from the newsfeed and
Ross | 12
towards the archive.10 Indeed, almost all of my interlocutors mentioned the importance of being able
to go back and look at their posts. One even referred to this as “stalking myself,” a nod to the act of
“stalking” others by digging into their online histories
Because this archive also appears on the feeds of followers, it creates a particular politics to
posting. There is a sort of courtesy in posting selectively in order to avoid overwhelming or
annoying followers. This social norm is the double-post taboo. The injunction of this media
ideology is to encapsulate one’s experiences into a single post—recall Emily’s realization that each
moment needed a “quintessential photo” as she learned new norms on Instagram. Everyone I spoke
with noted the taboo of posting to Instagram more than once a day. Several noted that doing this
would mean you get less likes or even lose followers for clogging up feeds. The inability to double-
post shapes Instagram use in numerous ways. When discussing the taboo, Emily explained how she
might delay certain posts in order to observe the rule: “At times, like, later in the day I’ll take another
really cool photo, but then I’m like, ‘Oh, I’ll just post it tomorrow. I’ll just let this one have today
and then I’ll let that one have tomorrow.” To avoid the taboo, each image should have its own day,
its own time to shine and be seen and be liked.
If the delayed post is one way of adjusting social media use to fit this media ideology, others
found innovative ways to tell stories in a single post.11 Captions and location tags become ways to
index experiences beyond the content of the image itself. Looking through her Instagram archive,
Scarlet showed me a post from a weekend spent in New York. The image was of her and her
brother on the Brooklyn Bridge, but the location was “Book of Mormon, Broadway, New York,
NY.” She told me that the location tag was “so people could understand why I was saying
something weird” in the caption, which had nothing to do with the Brooklyn Bridge, but rather was
a quote from the musical. Image, location, and caption all indexed the same weekend tripbut
different aspects of it. Here we see that different pieces of a post do not necessarily come together
directly, but reflect on one another in innovative ways. In another creative use of the location tag,
Audrey showed me her favorite picturean unedited, eye-catching picture of her hiking,
surrounded by bright green grass and yellow flowers in the foreground with snow-topped mountains
behind. It was only later that I realized the location for the post was the university library. The
caption? “Wish I was hiking here instead of up the stairs in [the library]”—a single post signaled
both what she was doing as well as her nostalgia for something different.
It is in this way, through creative deployment of other attributes beyond the image, that
“thick photography sets things, people, and places in relationship” (Deger 2016:128). Instagram-
Ross | 13
posting is not just about indexing past occurrences but also “creative remediation on the present
moment” (114). It is not only an image but is the confluence of image, caption, and other practices.
Tagging a friend who couldn’t make it to dinner or using a hashtag for a wedding, for example, are
ways users can index people and things beyond what is in an image. This complicates what
constitutes an image, and what becomes possible when posting within the constraints of
Instagramboth those imposed by the structure of the platform itself and those imposed by
particular media ideologies.
Switching to “Fake” Instagram
These unwritten rules on Instagramequal parts constricting genre and like-seeking
strategydictate that one post aesthetically pleasing pictures (of friends, events) with witty captions
(but not too long), edited (but not too much), at the best time of day (for a wider audience), but not
too often (never double-post). All of this is done to maximize likes. There are plenty of Instagram
users who don’t follow or even know these rules, of course, but for the young adults and teenagers
who do, these rules can be constricting. To free themselves from these constraints they have turned
to “fake” Instagram (finsta).
Instagram, like any platform, includes rules and places where the rules fall away. People use
finstas to present themselves on Instagram otherwise, making a clear break from the media ideology
of their main Instagram accounts. The intertextual gaps (Briggs and Bauman 1992) between finstas
and primary Instagrams are noticeable, signaling a departure from the constraints of stringent media
ideologies in favor of a supposedly freer mode of communication. Lauren explained that “there’s a
clear difference” between the two. When I asked what her accounts said about her, she replied:
For Insta and, like, Facebook and every other like kind of public social media account, like I
feel like there’s always been that issue… like it’s not your real life, it’s like just highlighting
the good parts about what you do… I’m not a person who’s going to just, like, post a
picture. Like, I’m really like detail-oriented about it and showing you what I’m doing, where
I’m doing it, who I’m doing it with, like, this is a cool thing that I’m doing, this is my cool
life, whatever. But for finsta, it’s more like an actual thing – like your actual life, it’s not like
you’re hiding behind some filter, saying “look at me; I’m so cool.”
In sketching out an alternative space, users created a parallel public (Dewey 2009) that acts as a place
for inside jokes, self-deprecation, and storytellinga place to be, several noted, who you really are.
Finstas were described as “a judgement-free zone,” an “intimate community,” a place to “be
yourself.” This stemmed from the finsta audience being significantly smaller. While a typical
Ross | 14
Instagram account might be followed by hundreds of friends, family, acquaintances, and classmates,
a finsta was a more intimate space where one could be herself around a few dozen close friends. In
this sense finstas were a form of backstage (Goffman 1956) relative to their primary Instagram
accounts. In outlining these differences, Emily noted that her “Instagram is for me, yes, but it’s also,
it’s me sharing my thoughts and like my world, with the public, this [finsta] is just me sharing my
thoughts and my world with my intimate friends.” Because of this intimacy, she could break from
her conventional media ideology: “I’ve posted finstas where it’s like a really dumb photo and then
like a paragraph [caption], whereas I would never do that for an Instagram.” While the meticulously
edited photos on Instagram are, in Lauren’s words, “not your real life,” on finsta photos are less
perfect, and therefore give some semblance of being “more real.” By releasing users from the
stringent rules of Instagram, finstas offer a differentand according to them, more authenticway
of mediating the self. The motives behind finstas and the self represented on them were markedly
different than typical Instagrams; finstas allowed users to reject the gendered and class-based social
expectations placed on their more public-facing personae.
While primary accounts are highly curated, edited, and focused on getting likes, finstas were
described as the opposite. Emily’s finsta is “fairly self-deprecating” and features “ugly photos of me,
or dumb selfies” where the caption can be as long as she wants, she rarely uses filters, and she can
post more than once a day. Ann said that she “couldn’t care less about likes” on her finsta (recall that
likes were “the whole purpose” of her Instagram). Scarlet echoed this: “I enjoy [finsta] because it’s
very much a chance to just be like, ‘I don’t really care what I look like’… I don’t care how I’m
perceived in this instance, I just want I want to be appreciated, uh just, no filter, raw, and people
appreciate it just for the content versus the um outward appearance.” To escape the pressure of likes
was a welcome reprieve for someone whose main account sought them relentlessly. The
expectations of how they were read led my interlocutors to carve out a new space where they could
act otherwise; finstas offered respite from the social expectations of Instagram, class and gendered
pressure to impress with beautiful portraits and envious locations—Scarlet said “you want to put on
your best face” in Instagram, but her finsta was replete with pictures that were “not very flattering.”
“I try to be as ugly as I can in the photo,” she said, describing her finsta aesthetic as “the side
eye and the funny face.” If all the photos were similar, then, it was the captions that set each post
apart. Glancing through Scarlet’s recent finsta posts gave me a sense of the stories she was sharing
self-deprecating accounts of awkward experiences. She congratulated a friend for getting an
inheritance when a beloved grandparent died. She “almost killed” her boyfriend by accidentally
Ross | 15
triggering a food allergy. When I asked about the relationship between image and caption, she said
“I think the image doesn’t really matter, as long as you have something to back it up” (i.e. a good
story). But if it doesn’t matter, then why all the selfies? She found satisfaction in disrupting the
norm: “You’re used to seeing me smiling or whatever and then you see me just making the ugliest
face possible.” Both accounts are in dialogue as performed selves and “real” (differently performed)
selves reflect on one another implicitly, one performing to be consumed and the other critiquing the
likes-seeking project. This dialogue becomes explicit elsewhere. When I asked Emily if she used
filters on her finsta, she described a joke that drew attention to these intertextual gaps:
One time a friend and I were at a party and we took a bunch of photos together and I
Instagrammed one that was, like, a good photo and then one photo was like an outtake
where our faces were all blurry and messed up and we looked, like, horrible, but I edited it as
if it were like a legit photo, and then posted it to my finsta to like, kind of, like as a joke.
Emily’s joke is premised upon different media ideologies. Thus, the finsta post can be read as
critiquing the editing process and the competition to impress, which Emily described as “a game”
she played to try to get likes. Similarly, Ann’s deployment of this strategycirculating similar images
on both accountsserved to draw attention to the labor that went into getting pictures to be
perfect. Home for Thanksgiving, she posted a photo of herself with two friends, captioned “So
thankful for friends.” But she also posted a blurry picture from moments earlier, captioned “‘Take a
fucking photo!’” on her finsta:
We tried so hard to like take a good picture of like the three of us… But then we like kept
getting photobombed, kept on like—the flash was terrible, the lighting was awful, and we’re
finally just yelling at the camera, like “come on dude,” like, you know, “just take a fucking
If their media ideologies of Instagram required perfection, my interlocutors’ finstas allowed them to
contrast or critique this with ugly and blurry pictures.
Finsta posts reject the primacy of the image through ugly pictures and pictures that “don’t
matter.” One of Lauren’s recent posts had a long caption explaining how she had accidentally
started a fire in her apartment. The image paired with it? A meme about necklaces. When I
expressed surprise at this, Lauren repeated that the image didn’t matter on finsta. Looking at another
post, she said: “I needed a picture, and like I didn’t know what else to do, so I did one of my dog.”
She then walked me through her finsta-posting process, scrolling through photographs, text message
and Snapchat screenshots, and saved memes. “Let’s say I’m making a post, like, ‘oh I’m being
interviewed for my finsta, blah blah blah,’ I’d go through and be like, ‘what picture do I use?’” She
kept scrolling. “I’d just go through and pick one that, like, not even really fits best, but just like I’d
Ross | 16
want to show or like think is funny, or like if I can’t think of anything… my dog.” She continued
scrolling, then stopped and laughed. “Or, mini pretzels.”
In escaping the constraints of chasing likes, several interlocutors had fled to a genre where
images “didn’t matter”—on an image-sharing platform. Instagram is such a central part of sociality
that even a rejection of its norms takes place on the very app that it refuses. But ugly selfies and
memeswhile unrelated to the stories told in the captionsare ready-at-hand to be posted and,
viewed as such, convey a sort of intimacy (or realness) to followers.12 Instagram and finstas construct
and share different versions of the self with different publics; performances both “fake” and “real.
While finstas push against the app’s norms, they are still part of Instagram, just as Warner’s
counterpublics and Dewey’s parallel public sphere are still entangled in dominant publics. Many
people follow friends’ main accounts and finstas, so newsfeeds blend hyper-edited content with the
spontaneous, the frank, and the silly. It is in this convergence that the divide between media
ideologiesthe intertextual gaps of Instagrambecome clearest. My interlocutors were keenly
aware that they were projecting multiple selves through the same platform. Even the very notion
that one could be more “real” on “fake” Instagram is shot through with hyper-awareness of the
performative nature of social media. The labor of maintaining an online persona sometimes means
“orchestrating a single self-presentation across” multiple platforms (Gershon 2014:282), but here it
works in reverse, crafting multiple personae within the same platform. For my interlocutors, their
primary Instagram accounts aren’t false versions of themselvesboth their primary accounts and
their finstas are different self-representations that they have crafted for different purposes and
audiences (Goffman 1956). These two selves operate in dialogue and share space on the same
Our social media selves are not only a form of performance (Goffman 1956), but have
recently been conceived of as animation (Silvio 2010, Manning and Gershon 2013, Gershon 2014).
Animation implies a “projection of the self into the environment,” an object that is simultaneously
both the self and not (Silvio 2010:426), such as gaming avatars or Facebook profiles (Manning and
Gershon 2013). The selves we portray aren’t our “true” selves, but this doesn’t make them any less
real. Social media personae aren’t merely virtual creations, but are instances where “online and
offline personas are seamlessly intertwined” (Manning and Gershon 2013:126). The idea that what
people post to Instagram is only part of their real lives is assumed by most. Finsta accounts are
another. Facebook and Twitter are others, as are workplace personae and happy hour personae.
Ross | 17
While the front stage of performance theory allows a performer to mask the labor (or lack
thereof) that occurs behind the scenes (Goffman 1956:71), animation theory draws our attention to
how characters are produced through a collective endeavor (Silvio 2010:427-8, Gershon 2017).
Instagram posts depict particular versions of the self, and these depictions are often shaped by
multiple people. Recall that Scarlet sometimes asked friends about “likes potential” before posting.
Consultation and co-authorship are part of the collaborative science of making the perfect post
(Silvio 2010). But even the everyday maintenance of social media profiles is an act of animation, as
Gershon (2014) notes in her study of how people maintain online selves while on the job search,
managing what appears on their online profiles to keep the personae presented there consistent,
appropriate, and hirable. Your Facebook profile is what you post, but it’s also what your friends post
on your profile, what they tag you in, what groups you’re part of. Similarly, the self curated on
Instagram is made up of posts, but also likes, comments, and tagged photos. Not only do people
fashion self-representations to attain likes, but likes constitute and animate these images. Instagram
posts are “the creatures of collectives, rather than auteurs” (Silvio 2010:428)—created collaboratively
and, once posted, further animated by likes and comments which add to their social biography
(Edwards 2012).
According to Silvio (2010:428), performance theory was limited by the notion that “one
body can only inhabit one role at a time,” compared to animation in which multiple bodies can
inhabit a single role, such as the co-authorship above, or a single author takes up multiple personae,
as with Instagrams and finstas. These two personae exist in relation to one another, and not only in
the critical register referenced above; Lauren described another example of this dialogic relationship:
I had an Instagram when we went to spring break last year, we went to Greece, my friend
and I, and we like posted this picture and it took like an hour to try to get this picture. And so
like there’s this picture of me, like, climbing on a rock, like, looking so stupid, like so I posted
on Instagram and then literally posted [on finsta], like, the picture of me climbing the rock,
like, “hahaha,” like, “this is what it took, go like my picture.”
Here, Lauren’s finsta acts as a behind-the-scenes snapshot of her more curated post, a self-
deprecating comment on it, and promotional material. The two accounts, while addressing different
publics with different images, are in dialogue. For close friends who follow both accounts, the
images circulate alongside one another, speaking to each other. The ability to break her Instagram
media ideology without leaving the medium itselfmedia switching within a given mediumallows
Lauren to speak to multiple, overlapping publics. Such media switching techniques expand our
understanding of how communications operate within given media.
Ross | 18
Media switching also leads, however, to the possibility of accidental media switching, wherein
critiques of particular ideologies may simply become failed communicative acts. Operating multiple
accounts forces users to toggle back and forth, leaving room for error as a user might forget which
account she’s logged into. “I’ve done that,” Lauren said with a laugh. “It’s really embarrassing.”
Giving a hypothetical example, she made a grumpy face and gestured taking a selfie, narrating a
caption: “ugh, forgot to study for my test.” “But it’s like your rinsta, and everyone’s like: ‘oh my god!’
Like everyone will comment: ‘rinsta!’, like ‘Lauren, this is rinsta!’, like ‘delete! delete!’” This distinction
renders the post a faux pasif such ideologies didn’t exist or were illegible to followers, it might just
be a bad photobut it cues finsta-saavy followers to correct the behavior, further normalizing what
belongs where.
The opposite mistake can have consequences too. When Emily’s a capella group went to a
recording studio, she posted a picture of herself standing at the microphone, with lights splashing
off the wall behind her, and captioned it with lyrics from a song that she had arranged. It had all the
trappings of a perfect Instagram post, but the results were disappointing.
I posted a photo that was really, really cool, and had really cool colors and was like: “aww
yeah, this one’s going to get a lot of likes, this is such a cool photo, like, I want people to
appreciate it, it’s so cool.” And it got like seven likes. And I was like: “what did I do? Why is
this flopping so much?” And then I turned to my friend Talia and was like: “Talia, what’s
going on?” And she was like: “I was so confused when you did that—you posted that on
your finsta. It was such a cool photo, why didn’t you post it on your real insta?”
A proud statement became a whisper to close friends. Such breachesin either directionresult in
awkward moments, delayed praise, or missed opportunities. For all its potential, media switching
within the same platform creates occasions for mistaken speech.
Each social media platform has a different purpose, audience, style, and animated self.
People select one depending on what they want. For Gershon (2010b:393) media switching occurs
between different technologies, but here we see it happening within them. Multiple accounts emerge
as needed, whenever someone desires having a new outlet on the same platform. The media
ideologies that lead to this multiplication of accounts determines what types of affordances and
limits that media has for that user: the limits of Instagram’s caption length disappear if you’re
posting to finsta, and the many options to edit images are rarely used for a genre of Instagram that
doesn’t care about likes. In this way, what is typically seen as a single mediumInstagramblurs
Ross | 19
into multiple forms. If “each medium is distinctive in enabling some participant structures… rather
than others” (Gershon 2017:16), existing media can also be refashioned into new forms.
Users engaging in media switching are “not only moving from one channel to another, but
often are also actively deciding against other possible channels” (Gershon 2010b:393). Certain things
just don’t belong on Instagram. But instead of switching to another app, users have chosen to create
another form of Instagram. One media switching question that comes to mind is why this instance
occurs on Instagram instead of posting funny faces to an app like Snapchat, where images are more
ephemeral. When I asked Emily this, she told me about a post that was for specific people, but
nonetheless desired a (small) public and that she wanted to remember:
There are two advantages to having it on your finsta. We had a little Christmas tree in our
room until like two weeks ago [late February], which I think is funny. So, like, I took a photo
with our Christmas tree and then I posted it on my finsta, and [was] like: “Hey guys, we still
haven’t gotten rid of our Christmas tree,” and then maybe I’d be like: “@[Roommate] get rid
of the tree already blah blah blah” and then like, so it’s fun in that respect because it’s a little
more public than a group text, so you can kind of be like: “hey guys, look at this funny
thing,” but also it’s not like: “hey everyone, here’s this funny thing.”
Um, that, and it’s kind of fun - one of my favorite things about finsta is that I can go back
and look at old things that I’ve posted and be like: “that was so funny,” or “I can’t believe I
posted that,” or “I looked terrible in that photo, like, that’s physically impossible.”
This type of interaction is not possible with something like Snapchat, on which many funny things
might circulate, but where messages vanish in seconds and there is no means for group
conversation. Meanwhile, finstas address a public and create an archive in a way that text messages
deny through their form of address.
The examples described demonstrate how media ideologies about Instagram gave rise to a
new genre, finsta, which has its own ideology. Both project different selves to different audiences,
but they exist within the same platform. For my interlocutors, the media ideology of Instagram has
norms and constraints, some of which the platform structures and some which are constructed by
themselves, limiting the capabilities of a platform that is central to inscribing, maintaining, and
enacting social relations. The foundation of these norms is the like. The various factors that go into
the image-making and -sharing process can be traced back to the desire to have one’s posts liked by
others. The visual economy of Instagram is entangled in this feature and the desires, obligations, and
anxieties that coalesce around the act of liking. It is through this feature, and the broader social
expectations of self-presentation, that my interlocutors perceivedand perpetuatedstringent
norms on the platform.
Ross | 20
These norms and desires encourage users to post a particular version of themselvesone
that is well-liked. But while engaging in this mode of communication, some felt an unmet desire for a
less mediated self, for a self not defined by filters or likes, but by realness. Here one form of
Instagram is cure to the ills of another. The act of sharing images is central to creating social norms
on Instagram, but sharing a different type of image on finsta opens up new ways of beingnew
animations, and arguably a new form of the medium itself, complicating how we delineate between
The simultaneous constructing of boundaries and breaking of conventions on Instagram
demonstrates that it can be the site for both highly curated images posted strategically and ugly
selfies that index a supposed authenticity, by the same person. Here one medium multiplies, hosting
different, opposing but related, animations of the self. Finstas show that recent theorizations of
media such as media ideologies and remediation can be expanded and even inverted. The two forms
of Instagram described here hardly exhaust the ways that users engage with that medium, but they
demonstrate how complicated media fields are in practice. A single platform can be the site of
multiple media ideologies at the same time, depending on what each user is looking for, what
message she wants to send, and to whom.
1 I quote my interlocutors with minimal editing, retaining audible pauses such as “like” or “um in
transcripts, both to center the form of their communicative practices (verbal and on Instagram) and
as a nod to their effort to portray “authentic” selves on finsta. I also refer to my interlocutors using
2 Following my interlocutors, I use “finsta” to refer to “fake” Instagram accounts. Since they rarely
used “rinsta,” I generally refer to “real” Instagrams as “primary accounts.”
3 Instagram introduced “stories”—posts that went away after 24 hours in 2016, which created a
new genre within the app which could be used for more spontaneous, frank posts such as those that
appear on finstas. This change occurred after my interviews were conducted and is not included in
analysis. See also footnote 11.
4 Instagram use is dramatically higher among age groups under 30. See Pew Research Center, “Social
Media Update 2016,” November 11, 2016:
update-2016/ and NORC at University of Chicago, “New Survey: Snapchat and Instagram are most
popular social media platforms among American teens.” Science Daily, April 21, 2017:
5 On the rise of “prosumer capitalism,” see Ritzer and Jurgenson 2010.
6 I italicize the quantifiable like of Instagram as part of its lexicon. This focuses attention on the
unique role of the like, which drives much of social media practice.
Ross | 21
7 See also Kopytoff 1986. However, it isn’t just consumption that marks the social lives of images,
but also interaction, which imbues them with value (Graeber 2001:33).
8 Josh Constine, “Instagram is switching its feed from chronological to best posts first.” TechCrunch.
March 15, 2016,
9 See Munn 1986 on fame and value.
10 On the end to the chronological newsfeed, compare Casey Johnston, “The Feed Is Dying,” New
York Magazine April 28, 2016, and Rob
Horning, “The Overload,” Marginal Utility, The New Inquiry, April 29, 2016,
11 In 2017, Instagram introduced the option of posting multiple pictures in a single post as a
slideshow. This circumvents the double-post taboo, which has surely changed Instagram use, but is
not reflected in the data analyzed here as interviews were conducted prior to this feature.
12 Heidegger (1962:98) refers to the type of being which equipment possesses as readiness-at-hand,
and notes that activities like using a hammeror posting an image to Instagramare intimate
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... In relation to Instagram, which is specifically mentioned in the second Jodel post above, existing studies have shown how users sometimes follow particular rules to get as many likes as possible. For instance, Ross (2019) argues that those rules are shaped by the medium's material constraints and affordances as well as social norms and pressures. He argues that young women's photo sharing practices are strategically and ideologically manifested in Instagram's affordance and the ability to like pictures (Ross, 2019). ...
... For instance, Ross (2019) argues that those rules are shaped by the medium's material constraints and affordances as well as social norms and pressures. He argues that young women's photo sharing practices are strategically and ideologically manifested in Instagram's affordance and the ability to like pictures (Ross, 2019). A realisation that this is the case, might be what is so annoying to young people. ...
... Since Instagram uses images in a picture or video format as the primary means of communication, the life of an image on Instagram extends beyond its creation and is capitalized on its reception, attention, consumption, and appreciation (Ross, 2019). To see an image, it needs to appear in a user's feed, which is personalized, determined by a complex algorithm, and evolves over time based on the use of the platform (Mosseri, 2021). ...
... As the number of likes is interpreted as received support, users tend to check often how many likes a post has received (Blease, 2015;Martinez & Garcia, 2019;Zell & Moeller, 2018) and are drawn to seek more and more visibility through comments, shares, and reposts. Thus, finding the ultimate balance between selecting a good image, editing it, captioning it, and uploading it at a perfect time is essential to create a successful post (Ross, 2019). ...
This article provides an in-depth analysis of the motives and patterns of Instagram use among a sample of Belgian and Peruvian youths. 19 participants aged 18–28 underwent in-depth interviews to assess what Instagram means to them, why and how they use it, and what consequences of their use they perceive. The most recurrent motivations for using Instagram were self-expression, curiosity, documenting, entertainment, and connection. Five distinctive usage patterns were identified: urge and craving, passive use, anxious posting, social approval, and social comparison. The perceived consequences include an increased connection to others, the rise of “Instagram-worthy” content pursuit, issues with time management, a compulsive urge to enter, and constant comparison. Since Instagram relies mainly on visuals, poses questions about authenticity, identity, and self-presentation, and elicits strong emotional reactions from its users, it fosters social comparison, which may be harmful to youth’s views on themselves, their self-esteem, and their self-worth.
... This subsection will also review recent evidence that the chilling effect of social media surveillance extends to offline settings (Lavertu et al., 2020;Marder et al., 2016). Finally, while resistance to social media surveillance is said to be difficult, literature on practices such as obfuscation and the use of anonymous or "fake" social media accounts is reviewed (Curlew, 2019;Ross, 2019;Xiao et al., 2020), as these strategies may prove relevant to the present study. The section will conclude with a summary and synthesis of major themes in the literature areas of privacy, selfpresentation, and imagined surveillance, as they relate to the present study of social media self-presentation. ...
... The anonymity they provide allows people to share content that is perceived to be politically incorrect or socially risky (McGregor & Li, 2019). Negative emotions that are perceived as unwelcome expressions according to the norms of social media (Waterloo et al., 2018) can be freely shared using a fake account (Curlew, 2019;Ross, 2019;Xiao et al., 2020), as can guilty confessions for which users can create a fake account that can be deleted after the cathartic disclosure is made (Yang & Huang, 2019). ...
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The purpose of this qualitative descriptive study was to explore how academics in the United States described their social media self-presentations (SMSPs) in the context of imagined surveillance. Moral Reasoning Theory drove two RQs: (1) How do academics describe construction of SMSPs in the context of imagined surveillance? (2) How do academics describe the influence of imagined surveillance on their personal SMSPs? 106 academics from across the U.S. were recruited by convenience sampling from two scholarly associations. Data were collected from closed-/open-ended questionnaires (n=102) and semi-structured interviews (n=20). Data analysis applied a six-phased Reflexive Thematic Analysis procedure of inductive coding to generate five themes and 14 subthemes. Academics described SMSP construction as negotiating (1) promises and perils of in/visibility, including (a) unspoken rules, (b) overlapping identities, (c) social support, and (d) personal opinion-sharing, which was profoundly shaped by (2) the rise of cancel culture, or an (a) enforced ideology, (b) activist subgroup, and (c) pressure to signal support. Imagined surveillance influenced SMSPs toward (3) protection over participation by (a) withdrawal from social media, viewing (b) tenure as insufficient, and (c) safe social media strategies; (4) trepidation while teaching due to (a) classroom recording prompted (b) strategic instruction; and (5) resistance and rebellion to (a) push back on cancel culture with a (b) duty to speak out. This study advanced understanding of social media surveillance as a normalizing force on speech and behavior. Findings may be applied to policy and practice regarding social media use in education and other professional settings.
... pertaining to digital environments, and particularly to social media practices and behaviors, have leveraged a variety of digital ethnographic methodologies and theoretical approaches to better understand media sharing behaviors and digital communications. Ross (2019) posits that Instagram users center a particular form of value within their social media practice-the like-and resultantly focus their content production on the accumulation of likes, such that posts successfully fulfill their function when they succeed in generating a satisfactory quantity of likes. This position accounts for both hierarchical and aesthetic considerations in content creation; posts that generate large quantities of likes could be understood to reflect a poster's prevalent social positionality and/or a communal acknowledgement of a poster's success in complying with the style guidelines of a particular community. ...
... These prevailing aesthetics exemplify how users enact a nuanced regime of ornamentation in order to purify and make credible one's presentation of self. Ross (2019) argues that this highly formalized environment is juxtaposed by users' interactions on Fake Instagram. 'Finsta' (Fake-Instagram) accounts are secondary Instagram accounts that serve as a comparatively more spontaneous and organic outlet for self-expression than 'real Instagram.' ...
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This article addresses the ways in which collegiate sorority women deploy sorority-specific aesthetic cues to construct socially acceptable and recognizable presentations of themselves online. I suggest that sorority members initiate and invite social media interaction as a means of parlaying their own media posts into discursive sites, thereby participating in a complex and considerably stratified economy of display and recognition. Sorority members also exert social capital through public demonstrations of social network linkages— demonstrations which can only be performed successfully if one maintains legitimacy and good standing within the media economy. I probe the implications of theorizing social media posting (particularly to the digital media platform Instagram) as a communal art creation practice that strengthens group social linkages and reifies communally observed aesthetic guidelines. I also address the stylistic and discursive regimens that shape expectations of media presentation, contrasting these practices with the comparatively candid and informal presentation styles exemplified in Fake Instagram (“finsta”) posting behaviors.
... When older adults predominate, or as parents join sites to monitor their children (Miller, 2016), young people may migrate away to seek their own mediated social spaces. Youths in the United States have reportedly migrated away from Facebook and toward Instagram and Snapchat (Ross, 2019). Media migration may also exhibit apparent race and class dimensions as when media scholar danah boyd (2012) observed that many white, affluent, young people began migrating away from MySpace to Facebook, citing concerns about MySpace being overrun with spam and having a perceived broader user demographic in comparison to college-oriented Facebook users in its early years. ...
... Both platforms also have features such as disappearing content and strict privacy restriction options that help to further conceal antinormative content (Duffy & Chan, 2019). Students also create private, secondary accounts on SM platforms such as Instagram (called "Finstagram" or "Finsta" accounts; a portmanteau combining "fake" and "Instagram") to accomplish these motives (Duffy & Chan, 2019;Kang & Wei, 2020;LaBrie et al., 2021b;Ross, 2019). ...
Social media (SM) users are a combination of several behaviors across platforms. Patterns of SM use across platforms may be a better indicator of risky drinking than individual behaviors or sets of behaviors examined previously. This longitudinal study addressed this gap in the literature using latent profile analysis (LPA) to identify subpopulations of SM users during the college transition (N=319). Indicators included in the LPA were general SM (checking, time spent, and posting to Instagram/Facebook/Snapchat; Finstagram ownership) and alcohol-related posting (alcohol, partying, and marijuana content) behaviors. LPA results revealed three SM user subpopulations at baseline: low general use with low alcohol-related posting (LGU+LAP), and high general use with low alcohol-related posting (HGU+LAP) or high alcohol-related posting (HGU+HAP). Baseline drinking, injunctive norms, and alcohol beliefs were associated with greater odds of HGU+HAP membership. Prospective analyses revealed that HGU+HAP was associated with greater alcohol use and consequences relative to HGU+LAP and LGU+LAP. Results suggest that there are distinct patterns of SM use during the college transition associated with risky drinking that can inform interventions combating SM-related alcohol risks. These findings also illustrate the importance of analyzing multiple SM user behaviors across multiple platforms simultaneously in future studies.
There has been a long debate about effective emotional appeals on charity advertisements. While many charity organizations recently shifted from negative emotions to happy emotions on their social media, it is not clearly proven whether this strategy is more effective. The objective of this study is to find more detailed unknown information to optimally use emotional charity advertisements on social media. We investigate the effect of 1) emotional valence, 2) their match between images and textual descriptions, 3) their length, and 4) their post timing on social media engagement. By automatically extracting emotions expressed both in facial images and textual descriptions from 3,066 charity posts from Save the Children’s official Instagram account using the computerized emotional content analysis, we provide findings on what, how much, when, and how charity managers can come up with a clear configuration for their social media advertisements.
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This article draws on Judith T. Irvine’s theorizing of the semiotic processes of differentiation to investigate how Sri Lankan Tamils and Muslims configure similarity and difference in multimodal social media interactions. I analyze Facebook discussions around memes of Tamil‐language blunders in trilingual public signs, which are widely taken to represent the incomplete implementation of Tamil as a co‐official language. Insider status in groups is not contingent on code use, but on expressing particular alignments toward the memes as tokens of a type. By virtue of their metapragmatic ambiguity, emojis are powerful in enabling participants to create shared affective stances around the memes, but they are also useful in demarcating difference between Tamil speakers and Sinhalas. I contribute to studies of social media communication by examining how different linguistic and non‐linguistic forms of expression are used to delineate transnational Tamil digital publics.
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The development of digital media technology gave rise to social media, especially Instagram which is a site used to exchange information and fulfill social communication needs in various circles. This study specifically analyzes the use of the Close Friend feature found on Instagram social media which is used for various objectives of each user. The research method uses descriptive quantitative content analysis through text analysis from various previous studies related to the use of the Instagram feature. One study showed that the effectiveness of the Instagram feature in increasing adolescent friendships in the digital era was dominant in the Close Friends feature as much as 61.2%. Close friends feature (close friend) was promoted because of the self-disclosure factor, as well as the convenience of users in uploading Instagram stories. The level of openness to the high categorydue to the proximity selecting and content sharing on this feature. The close friends feature is considered more private for Instagram users because they are free to choose their audience and upload based on their needs and desires. It was also mentioned how users manage their privacy when using the Instastory feature on Instagram social media where the privacy management is based on the Communication Privacy Management (CPM) criteria or Communication Privacy Management and is seen in the usage strategy when using the Insta Story feature on Instagram. Informants tend to have different reasons behind their decision to reset their privacy when using their social media.
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The uses of social media can be seen as driven by a search for affective intensity translating as moments of paying attention, no matter how brief these instances may be. In the framework of attention economy, attention has been discussed as a valuable commodity whereas distraction, involving both pleasurable entertainment and dissatisfactory disorientation, has been associated with cognitive overload and the erosive lack of focus. By discussing clickbait sites and Facebook in particular, this paper inquires after the value of distractions in and for social media. Understanding distraction, like attention, as both affective and cognitive, this article explores its role in the affective capitalism of clicks, likes, and shares. Rather than conceptualizing attention and distraction as mutually opposing, I argue for conceptualizing them as the two sides of the same coin, namely as rhythmic patterns in the affective fabric particular to the contemporary landscape of ubiquitous networked connectivity.
This article argues that the forms of “public” subjectivity associated with cellular phones are defined as much by the positive valuations of cellular technology as by the negative ones. Furthermore, cellular publics depend upon a critique of a previous era’s fixed-line telephony. All of this suggests that the material affordances of the devices which mediate public subjectivity are important. It also suggests that “publics” are inherently historical; users of “publics” have a sense of that public’s natural history which, if undermined, create anxieties. This argument, based in part on material gathered in Brazil, facilitates the selection of four attributes of cellular publics which are grounded in concepts of time, space, and person: 1) the reduction of response time; 2) the transcendence of space; 3) the unification of communicative and mediating capacities into a single device; and 4) the increased portability of that device, making for its ubiquity in social and professional settings. It is the unity of these four attributes which, I argue, make cellular publics unique. © 2018 by the Institute for Ethnographic Research (IFER) a part of The George Washington University. All rights reserved.
Focuses on the concept of a public. Description of a public as a space of discourse; Element of impersonality in public address; Social role of a public.
How is the newness of new media constructed? Rejecting technological determinism, linguistic anthropologists understand that newness emerges when previous strategies for coordinating social interactions are challenged by a communicative channel. People experience a communicative channel as new when it enables people to circulate knowledge in new ways, to call forth new publics, to occupy new communicative roles, to engage in new forms of politics and control—in short, new social practices. Anthropologists studying media have been modifying the analytical tools that linguistic anthropologists have developed for language to uncover when and how media are understood to provide the possibilities for social change and when they are not. Taking coordination to be a vulnerable achievement, I address recent work that elaborates on the ways that linguistic anthropology segments communication to explore how a particular medium offers its own distinctive forms of authorship, circulation, storage, and audiences. Expected final online publication date for the Annual Review of Anthropology Volume 46 is October 21, 2017. Please see for revised estimates.
Across remote Aboriginal Australia, phone and tablet photographic technologies are giving rise to vibrant new forms of visual culture. Greenscreen software, montage and .gif effects enable the creation of layered images that literally pulse with meaning and affect. Akin to bark painting – yet deliberately different – such images reveal the spectral depth of Yolngu worlds. At a time when families across Arnhem Land face relentless loss and social stress, the making, sharing and viewing of elaborated family photographs reaffirm, reconstitute, and thicken a world of vitality, resonance and ancestral significance. Through deliberately posed and often highly postproduced photography Yolngu can creatively participate in a profoundly synaesthetic and sentient world, a world enlivened by uncanny encounter, a world that requires the ongoing affirmation and renewal of relationships through imagistic practice. This is a world of sensuous force and inside meanings, a world that far exceeds the registers of what the eye can see, the camera can capture, or, indeed, what the anthropologist will ever know.
Through an intensive examination of photographs and engravings from European, Peruvian and US archives, this text explores the role visual images and technologies have played in shaping modern understandings of race. The book traces the subtle shifts that occurred in European and South American depictions of Andean Indians from the late-18th to the early-20th century and explains how these shifts led to the modern concept of "racial difference". Whilst Andean peoples were always thought of as different by their European describers, it was not until the early-19th century that European artists and scientists became interested in developing a unique visual and typological language for describing their physical features. The author suggests that this "scientific" or "biological" discourse of race cannot be understood outside a modern visual economy.