the internet

"A Form of Damage Limitation:” Why We Use Twitter Alts and Finstas

We hear from some people maintaining an online double life. Spoiler alert: not everyone uses their secret accounts to shit talk their friends.

by Yusuf Tamanna
16 April 2019, 7:30am

At least once a day I’ll come across a tweet on my timeline from my friend’s ‘alt’ account. They have their main, public-facing account where they tweet endless Drag Race memes and talk about how Carly Rae Jepsen is underrated (I agree, just FYI!). And on their alt account they’ll talk about how they’re struggling with their mental health or how much they hate the people they work with.

From the outside, it can be confusing reading these tweets – and at other times concerning – but having an alt seems to work for them, as it does tons of other people. With that in mind, I spoke to a handful of people about why they have an alt on Twitter or use a finsta alongside their main Instagram account. And perhaps more to the point, does having these secondary profiles really improve their experience on social media?

HERE FOR NECESSITY

“I started using my alt account on Twitter in 2011 because being gay in Indonesia is already hard enough with the stigma and pressure from society. I use my alt to express my homosexuality, talk about pop culture, interact with different fandoms and everything else in between. Whereas on my main account I talk about politics, the media, journalism and stuff happening in the local community. I mean, it’s still me on both accounts but because of the situation in Indonesia, I can’t fully be myself the way I want online.

I work within the Indonesian government and anonymity is crucial. Being gay in an Islamic country like Indonesia is still risky and my entire life has been built here. Everyone knows everyone, and I worry that one day one of my family members will stumble across my alt account and that could really affect my professional life. It’s exhausting, but this is the life I have to live.” - Reza, 34

“I’ve had my current alt account for around 18 months, but I’ve had others in the past that I’ve closed down. I use mine mostly to post about far-left politics and I was worried that my employers would see my tweets. I wanted a space where I could vent and express my feelings without feeling I had to edit myself. Being autistic, I find social relations on social media difficult to navigate and sometimes seeing the arguments that take place on my main account can be overwhelming and make me feel depressed. I just wanted my own quieter place.” Harry, 25

HERE FOR THE NUDES

“I’m very sexually liberated and I used to post my own nudes on my main account, but I thought it was unfair to thrust those types of photos into the faces of people who didn’t want to see that side of me, so I made an alt account specifically for that. Now that I have a separate account away from certain mutuals I get to freely post my most risqué content. It’s been great because a lot of my mutual followers have their own alt accounts that I never knew existed. It’s exciting to see them following and interacting with me in a different way than what they would have on my main account. There’s an issue with certain gay men on Gay Twitter who slut shame others for posting photos of their bodies and I’m completely against that. What exactly is their issue with nudity and sexuality? It’s baffling.” Ashton, 25

HERE FOR ROMANTIC ABJECTION

“I got my heart broken in a quick succession of times and found myself compelled to tweet about it on my main account. There would be times when I’d come back from a night out at 2AM, completely pissed, and I’d tweet the most abject stuff that was literal cries for help. I was dating this one guy and felt myself reaching this crescendo of unhappiness and on the verge of a very public meltdown, so I decided to make an alt. During that time in my life it did help me, because I think when you’re sad you have an impulse to put that feeling out into the universe. And I don’t know if that’s even healthy, but having an alt becomes a form of damage limitation.

I do think sometimes that it can be unfair to force people to bear witness to your sadness when they can’t really help. In some cases you begin to indulge in your own dark thoughts because you have an alt account in the first place.” James, 26

HERE FOR THE SAFE SPACE

“In 2011 I was suffering heavily from an eating disorder and I just wanted to scream and shout into a void, but knew I couldn't do that by tweeting because the people I knew outside of Twitter would talk and being South Asian it would seem like I was airing my dirty laundry in public. But it was important that I had a means of expressing myself authentically; I decided to create an anonymous account on Twitter to do just that. I started using my alt account to talk openly about my eating disorder and depression and in doing that I started to make friends from my alt who were highly matched to me emotionally, the majority of whom also suffered from eating disorders. It felt like I found my community and I felt understood.

There were times when I would delete the account because I felt I should be able to express how I felt on my main one, but the ease of talking about mental health anonymously was second to none. I’m still in touch with a few of the girls I befriended on my alt and I would call them life-long friends. I now use my alt account maybe a few times a month because I am in a better place, but I always keep it around as a safe space.” Raaesa, 30

HERE TO ENAGE WITH THE VOID

“I’ve had alt Twitter accounts on and off for about five years. I go through phases of using them daily. to the point where I’m relying on them, and then other times I realise I haven’t used them in over a month. My finsta is the same. It’s the place I post photos I wouldn’t want to post on my main Instagram account because it’s a shit selfie or whatever. My alt twitter can range from me being really emotional and talking about my mental health to other things that I really shouldn’t say on a public forum, because they're about people from work. If they came across it, I don’t know what would happen.

I enjoy using them because they’re an outlet for me, especially when there’s no one to talk to. I can just post what’s troubling me into the void and then I can look at it the next day and if I feel better I can just delete it. It’s a way of letting it all out, regardless of if anyone actually sees it or responds to it – I feel better for not having kept it in. There was one time at university where I had a breakdown and I tweeted about it on my main account and suddenly everyone was really concerned for me. It became this massive situation, and while there’s no shame in talking about mental health, personally I felt really embarrassed. So now instead of getting everyone involved, I just turn to my alt account when I need to express that side of me.” - Liam, 23

HERE TO BE 'OFF BRAND'

“With a main account it can sometimes feel like you’re curating specific content because you have an entirely different audience, but with an alt I can be more open and honest with my emotions. So if I’m feeling like shit or I want to express myself sexually I post it on my alt. It’s quite cathartic. I only have roughly 20 followers on my alt anyway and they’re all alt accounts as well so we’re all just doing our thing. It’s definitely helped me enjoy social media lot more because on my main Twitter there can be a lot of drama, so having an alt has given me a place where I can allocate my thoughts to a specific destination. I can understand how people may think having an alt can make it look like you’re being fake or being an attention seeker, but I think how people use their own social media is up to them. If people want to talk about their mental health or post dick pics on their alt then they have every right to do so. Some things are not for everyone and that’s okay.” Kameron, 26

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