Social media star Essena O’Neill recently created thousands of virtual reality waves when she decided to abandon the apps and platforms that made her Internet famous.
Nineteen-year-old O’Neill had made her living by promoting different products on social media. With a follower count of over 600,000 on Instagram alone, she was making around $2,000 a month just taking pictures for her followers to like and share.
Due to her sudden change of heart — and subsequent public outcry — O’Neill has been the talk of the Internet over the past few days. On Oct. 27, she deleted thousands of photos from her Instagram account and rewrote the captions for her remaining photos with messages such as, “If you find yourself looking at ‘Instagram girls’ and wishing your life was theirs … Realize you only see what they want …”
Shortly after, the teen declared she was quitting social media for good and creating a website, letsbegamechangers.com, that focuses on her “own personal value and aim” to “make the world cleaner, healthier, more peaceful, more beautiful and more conscious.”
In a tearful admission posted online, O’Neill claimed that she often sold out her face, her body and her values for the sake of advertising dollars. The further she ventured down the rabbit hole, the further she felt from herself and her values.
Comments on her website and other entertainment sites are saying nothing but positive things about O’Neill’s decision to leave the Internet fame and social media behind.
While O’Neill’s pal and fellow social media star, Bonny Rebecca, claims that not all Internet stars are about exploiting their image for money and that social media has been “very good” to most people, a question arises. Is social media ultimately more good or bad? How much 2-D interaction is too much?
According to a Global Web Index report in 2014, the average person aged 16-24 spends around six hours of their day online. Of those six hours, 2.7 are spent on social media sites like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.
Six hours a day, seven days a week — that’s 42 hours a week. Almost two days out of seven are typically spent on the Internet. In a year, that’s 102 days out of 365, so 28 percent of a year.
We spend a lot of time online.
Advertisers recognize that. It was advertisers — and the false worlds they tried to sell to young consumers — that drove O’Neill away from social media. In a YouTube video she posted explaining her actions, O’Neill claimed that advertisers would pay her and other social media models to wear their products and take photos in certain ways and at certain times.
This isn’t new. Advertisers have used youth and beauty to sell products since the concept began. TV and magazine ads constantly remind people that they aren’t complete without their product. Not a man unless you drive this truck, not truly feminine without this mascara, not hip without a particular phone.
Of course, their claims are all bullshit, and they’re easily avoidable. Mute the TV during commercials. Read magazine content online and run an adblocker. It’s possible to avoid the hype.
What O’Neill — and countless other beautiful teenagers — have sold themselves out to is a devious new form of advertising. One selling more body issues and the “Fear of Missing Out” to kids at younger ages than ever before, by convincing them that these models are regular people, just like them.
Now, we’re not saying that every platform is bad or that social media doesn’t enhance our lives to a certain extent. It sure can make it easier to connect with friends and family, watch entertaining things and share thoughts and opinions.
However, O’Neill’s decision to turn away from the contrived corners of social media — instafamous models and their ilk — is one that everyone would do well to seriously consider. Those people are no more real than the Kardashians and just as dangerous as Joe the Camel.
We’re not saying delete your social media platforms, but we are saying to think twice about how much you really use them. In an age where everything is becoming digitized, keep your social connections rooted in the real world.
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