Recent trends in creative private Instagrams accounts cause cyberbullying issues
She made the private Instagram account at the end of her sophomore year. At first, her private account was a place for her to post photos that did not make the cut for her public account. But that soon changed after she was targeted on someone else’s private Instagram. For purposes of maintaining her anonymity, we will refer to her as Kelsey.
“I could see the comments of the [mean] things people were saying [about me], and every time a new comment came up it would just hurt even more,” Kelsey said.
He made the private Instagram during winter break of his junior year. At first, the account was a place for him to post funny pictures of his friends. But that soon changed after he made the post that targeted Kelsey. For purposes of maintaining his anonymity, we will refer to him as Bradley.
“I’m a mean person,” Bradley said. “[Privates are popular because] people can throw shade like that. People don’t have any regrets because usually the other person doesn’t find out.”
Many other students like Kelsey and Bradley have private Instagram accounts. Commonly known as a “finsta,” a private Instagram is a secondary account where students can post photos that they do not want to show on their public account, which typically has more followers. In a survey of 433 students, 39 percent said that they have a private Instagram account.
Student advocate Richard Prinz explains that with privacy comes a sense of power that at times can be abused.
“There’s not much that’s private anymore,” Prinz said. “Sometimes people think ‘Oh I’d think it was funny,’ but they’re not really taking the perspective of the other person. They’re saying ‘if it happened to me,’ so that’s different.”
And that’s exactly what happened to Kelsey. She was sitting in her living room in the middle of a heated argument with someone over text. As a mutual friend of the two, Bradley decided to post about it. Kelsey continued to go back and forth in the argument, when she was sent a screenshot of Bradley’s post by another friend. For purposes of anonymity, we will not describe the post in detail.
“The picture wasn’t as bad. I know the effect wouldn’t have been as bad as it was if it was just the photo, but the caption was a bit extreme. I regret it,” Bradley said. “I lost a good friend in the process.”
Kelsey had seen these types of posts before, but never thought she would be the target of one of them. Immediately turning off her phone, she left her house, telling her parents that she was going out for a walk. She found a place to sit down in a secluded area and once again turned on her phone, now flooded with notifications.
“It wasn’t a very long post, but I kept looking at it. Maybe I thought something would change about [it],” Kelsey said.
According to Instagram’s website, the company wants “to foster a positive, diverse community.” They intend to “remove content that targets private individuals to degrade or shame them.”
Kelsey did not feel justified in reporting the post, so it stayed up and was only taken down the next day by the owner of the account. By that point, many people had already seen the post. The following week at school, Kelsey had to face many of her peers who commented on the post.
“It sticks in your head, and every time you see them you’re reminded of [the post],” Kelsey said. “It makes you feel very anxious because you’ve seen that they can post these things about you, so you don’t know what else could happen.”
Kelsey described how most of the things that people commented expressed amusement towards Bradley’s post.
“I feel like a lot of shade these days that goes around is disguised [with humor],” Kelsey said. “What about the people involved who are super hurt? How can you just laugh at that?”
Assistant principal Nico Flores gave a presentation titled “The Power of Words” in the beginning of the school year following several incidents related to cyberbullying last year. He explained that social media gives students the courage to say unkind things to their peers. Prinz, however, describes how the presentation was not effective for some students.
“It’s funny how you talk about the ‘Power of Words,’ but still, things go on,” Prinz said. “Some students commented [on it] and it sounded like they didn’t tune into that assembly. They just made fun of it. It takes time.”
Flores acknowledged that the presentation might have not reached everyone present. However, he believes that presentations like these are beneficial for the student body.
“I think it would be naive of me to think that one 45 minute presentation on cyberbullying would instantly change the the entire [student body], so I think it’s our job to continue to have these conversations,” Flores said. “I think we’re headed in the right direction to help support everyone in our community.”
Although the specific uses for each person varies, private Instagrams allow students to post pictures while avoiding the pressure to display more polished aspects of their lives, according to Tsai.
“I [can] post [a lot of] extra pictures that won’t spam people’s news feeds,” senior Juliane Tsai said. “The freedom of [a private account] is just fun. You have freedom on your main account, but you just don’t want to be that one person that posts 40 million thousand photos a day.”
In contrast to main Instagram accounts, private Instagrams are typically used to display content to an exclusive group of people, allowing students to post more personal aspects of their lives.
Tsai first made her private Instagram account to document her daily life in a more lighthearted manner, as opposed to her public Instagram which she uses to document bigger events in her life, like vacations and outings with her friends. While many students only let close friends follow their private accounts, Tsai is not selective about who is able to follow her account as she feels that both her accounts reflect the same personality. In addition Tsai has never made posts targeting specific people.
“I post funny videos that I have and sometimes I even post covers,” Tsai said. “I also post birthday posts and concert videos and sunsets and photos of what I like, like cream cheese bagels.”
While the uses of private Instagrams vary, Kelsey describes how the privacy of these secondary Instagrams allows cyberbullying to take place. With the popularity of social media platforms, cyberbullying has significantly increased in the last decade. According to the the Cyberbullying Research Center, which has collected data from over than 20,000 middle and high school students since 2002, cyberbullying has increased by 20 percent in the last ten years.
After a while, Kelsey recovered from the incident and continues to use her private Instagram, although she is much more conscious of what she posts. While Bradley continues to follow other accounts that target specific people, he does not post anything with intentions to bully others.
“I’ve posted less now because everything that I post. I just feel like, even though it is a private account, it will be scrutinized, mostly by myself,” Bradley said. “[Private posts are] not really meant for the person to view it, so they can just keep on living their lives. It’s really [messed] up, but you know, it’s high school.”