I’ve seen a lot of posts popping up on the web about Essena O’Neill. Just in the past week Helene, Taylor, and Phoebe all wrote great, but different, posts weighing in so I thought I’d share my thoughts also.
Chances are you already know the story. If not, I’ll catch you up quickly: Essena is a 19 year old model and social influencer from Australia who basically went off the rails a few weeks ago and quit all social media. You can watch the whole video and her explanation of her reasoning on her website.
As I mentioned, Essena is what we call a “social influencer“, meaning that she has (had) a large enough following (500,000 on instagram, 250,000 on YouTube and Tumblr) that what she’s doing and wearing has the potential to influence what other people are doing and wearing.
First of all, social influencers are great things. It is science and fact that we as people crave other people to inspire and lead us. Oprah comes out with her famous “Oprah’s Favorite Things” list every year. Why do you think brands and companies always display that little badge saying this product was “chosen as a part of Oprah’s Favorite Things“? Because Oprah is one of the most adored people of our time, people trust and look up to her. She’s Oprah for crying out loud! She has the best of everything at her disposal whenever she wants. If she endorses something most people take it as fact. She is a social influencer.
O’Neill is not at Orpah’s level (no one really is) but she is categorized as someone who has the power to influence other people. In Essena’s videos posted to her website she claims that social media is “fake” and we’re all basically social media obsessed animals seeking validation in any and every way.
I believe Essena makes some good points and I also believe there is validity in a lot of what she’s saying. BUT, and this is a big but, I think the points she’s making are specific to her, or people just like her who have wrapped their entire self worth into social media. It is obvious to me that Miss. O’Neil has developed an unhealthy relationship with social media. To me her rants are more a portrayal of how her relationship with social media became toxic, and not about how lethal likes and followers are.
I don’t want to single her out, because just like how people can develop unhealthy relationships with food, alcohol, or gambling, O’Neill seems to have developed a toxic relationship with social media.
The things she talked about in her video, “feeling like her life didn’t matter” because her picture didn’t get the attention she wanted, I have never had those same thoughts. I have nearly every form of social media: Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, and this space here, my website. Never once have I ever felt that my life does not matter because of my followers or lack of on any social media site.
When I post a picture or send out a tweet is it nice to see it getting liked? yes, of course! But do I lose sleep, think my life means nothing, and lose all my sense of self worth if it doesn’t? positively not. Social Media is such a valuable tool for businesses, companies, schools, publications, and people like me, who need a place to showcase their work. I like social media. In fact, I have a very expensive piece of paper (a college degree) in Journalism and Mass Communication where we studied Social Media extensively because we were told if we wanted a job in this field we had to master it.
Essena clearly at young age developed the habit of wrapping her entire identity in what she puts out for the rest of the world to see. That’s a problem that she formed organically, not a problem that social media brain washed the entire population with. Just because she fell into this doesn’t mean the rest of us should feel bad about using social media. That’s literally like an alcoholic getting mad at every single person on the planet who drinks. That’s insane.
Do I like and utilize all forms of social media? Yes, and there is nothing wrong with me because of it. I can have every form of social media, use it daily to my advantage and still not be obsessed and fixated on it. Regardless of what O’Neill is preaching, the internet isn’t going anywhere, and social media grows more and more every day. Whether she wants to admit it or not, social media is not the enemy.
It’s nobel that Essena wants there to “be something that isn’t based on views and likes”, but she’s dreaming. In fact, these videos she’s making, they’re getting views, and shares and likes. Her message is being heard all around the world because of social media. To a certain extent she’s biting the hand that feeds her.
Social media is not real life, but it’s also NOT the enemy. My hope is that O’Neill can really make a difference out there for young people like herself who have built up too much self worth in likes and followers. But I also want everyone else out there who likes and enjoys social media to know that there’s nothing wrong with that either. It’s ok to love social media.