By Lisa Young Stiers (Epsilon Omicron, Indiana State University)
Originally published in the fall 2017 Lyre; updated and condensed for this blog
“A picture is worth a thousand words” could be the rally cry for millions of Instagram lovers. Beautiful pictures — sharing stories of friendship, sisterhood, adventure and life — are the foundation of Instagram and the key attraction for sisters who love the social media platform.
Launched in fall 2010, Instagram now has more than 1 billion users who use pictures to tell a story.
Instagram is primarily a mobile platform, which means it’s most popular with younger sisters — those who are comfortable and engaged with their smartphones. It offers a digital archive to treasure and share.
“I love Instagram to tell a story about my life,” says Maya Pohl (Alpha Gamma, University of New Mexico). “I customize my Instagram to fit who I am as a person and have it show my personality, my love for my sisters and family. I choose the pictures based on experiences that I will never forget and that I want to show others.”
But for all the benefits of Instagram – storytelling, connecting with sisters, serving as a digital photo album and more – the app can have some very negative effects on users who aren’t thoughtful about how they use it. And in the case of Alpha Chi Omega, these effects can impact chapters and the Fraternity at large.
THE DARK SIDE OF INSTAGRAM
A fake Instagram account, known as a Finstagram or Finsta, is truly unfiltered. A place to post unedited, uncensored photos — from unflattering selfies to underaged drinking and other illegal behavior. These private accounts shared with a few friends may feel like a safe, fun form of expression. But they don’t always stay private. What might seem like an innocent picture of an evening out can not only damage a sister’s reputation but also that of an entire chapter.
“Social media represents you online and therefore represents the chapter,” says Jennifer Crotty (Delta Mu, University of Massachusetts), currently an NHC director and previously the volunteer director of collegiate experience volunteers. “Even though your name is not on it, people still know it’s yours. There’s no anonymity on social media.”
Images can spread quickly across campus. One friend shows another; an image is shared; someone is tagged. Within a Greek community, students know who belongs with each chapter. Soon, a simple party picture paints an entire group poorly.
“It’s never an anonymous trail,” says Crotty. “There’s always something that leads back to you.”
Chapters and collegiate officers have added social media contracts and monitoring to their responsibilities. In extreme circumstances, members may find themselves before a chapter standards and relations board facing disciplinary suspension.
Crotty’s advice: “Stop the Finstas! Be conscious of your digital footprint. Anything you do can be traced back to you. And it never goes away!”
Not only can Finsta accounts damage your reputation in college, but they can also have implications far beyond campus. In a previous job, Crotty made hiring decisions; these decisions could be significantly impacted by an applicant’s digital footprint.
Crotty says she researches candidates’ social media profiles, and she’s not alone. A digital search is a common part of today’s background check.
Does this mean your Instagram feed should be filled with staged, sugary-sweet images? No!
“I don’t expect all motivational quotes and pictures of your dog,” Crotty admits. “I know you have a life and I know you go out. Just make sure your pictures reflect your values.”
Alpha Chi Omega works to educate students about the importance of cultivating a strong digital footprint through education such as the “Mind Your Selfie” Program with Purpose, which guides members through the basics of social media etiquette and provides insight on why monitoring your social media footprint is imperative for a bright future.
Eileen Wixted (Beta Epsilon, Michigan State University), founder of a communications and crisis management firm, agrees.
“Know that you don’t have to share everything. As a mother and a professional in strategic communications, I see a desire to overshare,” she says.
Our savvy sisters offer a common measuring stick: If you don’t want your grandma to see it, don’t post it.
Instead, leverage your digital network to your advantage.
“I think Instagram and other social media platforms can be used to show potential employers and others what you are like as a person,” Wixted says. “LinkedIn can show your professional accomplishments; Facebook can show what articles and causes you are interested in; Instagram can show what you do for fun. All of these tools can be used to present a professional image.”