On October 27, Essena O’Neill, an Australian teenager with more than half a million followers on Instagram, made headlines when she deleted more than 2,000 of her account pictures “that served no real purpose other than self-promotion.”
Along with deleting these photos, she also dramatically edited the captions to the remaining 96 posts in a bid to reveal the manipulation, mundanity, and even insecurity behind them.
Soon after, O’Neill declared she was giving up Instagram, Youtube and Tumblr, as she described it as a “contrived perfection made to get money.” Like many Instagram users whose Instagram presence has cast them straight to stardom, O’Neill made an average of $2000 a post for promoting products on her account. However, it’s clear the money didn’t prove a strong enough reason to keep O’Neill from speaking out about the superficiality that her account promoted.
O’Neill was determined to prove that social media is not real life. Before she deleted her Instagram account, her newly captioned photos revealed how she had staged, edited, or manipulated the majority of her photos. In a caption on one of her many YouTube videos, O’Neill spoke about how unhappy her social media obsession made her.
“I spent hours watching perfect girls online, wishing I was them. Then when I was ‘one of them’ I still wasn’t happy, content or at peace with myself,” she wrote.
Soon after, O’Neill launched a new website called Let’s Be Game Changers with the purpose of educating people about the destructive effects of trying to gain people’s approval online. But some may argue that this is just another platform to gain followers.
O’Neill’s drastic rejection of social media shocked many followers, being met with mixed emotions. Some people praised her honesty and vulnerability in speaking out, but many were angered with her outcry declaring social media a hoax.
Friends that O’Neill had met through social media and shared Instagram fame disagreed with her bold claims. One pair of sisters that O’Neill had stayed with in LA released a Youtube video responding to O’Neill’s claims about social media in brutal frustration, “It’s not fair for her to make a generalization about herself and make other girls watching Youtube videos think this, even when it’s not true for everyone… The bottom line is that social media is not a negative thing. Just because one person had a bad experience with it does not mean everyone should jump on the band wagon and suddenly think social media is bad and social media influencers are wrong.”
The transparency that O’Neill displayed seemed to strike a different cord with many of her followers. In a world that is largely driven by social media, it is rare to find someone who is willing to speak to the insecurities that are often bred and hid from social media.
Fitness blogger and Instagram celebrity Kayla Itsines posted a powerful message in response to Essena O’Neill that echoed the praise many fans were giving O’Neill. Itsines, a fitness blogger with nearly 4 million followers on Instagram spoke to O’Neill’s post calling it “absolutely fantastic” and urged her followers to always “be honest” and true to themselves.
Itsines followed the transparency trend sparked by O’Neill by opening up to her fans later in the post saying, “On my account, you don’t see a lot of things. Not because I don’t want to show you, because I cannot physically take a photo of them. Things like the 5 am wake ups, the late nights, the constant bullying, the lack of support and understanding of friends, the stress. and so much more.”
Itsines was just one of many individuals, be it follower or famous, who commented on O’Neill’s outcry. This social media debate continues on today as people wrestle with the desire to share their lives with followers on different social media platforms.
It remains to be seen if social media should be used to display the best parts or, above all, the honest parts of every day life.
One thing can be said in confidence. The way we use social media and the messages we send is an issue that people are deeply invested in. Social media is an integral part of the Millennial generation.
It’s up to us to keep this conversation going and decide what kind of messages we want to support—and what kind of people we want to bring fame to.
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