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'Social media is not real life'

  • Published at 08:59 am November 4th, 2015

An Australian teenager with more than half a million followers on Instagram has quit the platform, describing it as “contrived perfection made to get attention”, and called for others to quit social media – perhaps with help from her new website.

Essena O’Neill, 18, said she was able to make an income from marketing products to her 612,000 followers on Instagram – “$2000AUD a post EASY”. But her dramatic rejection of social media celebrity has won her praise.

On 27 October she deleted more than 2,000 pictures “that served no real purpose other than self-promotion”, and dramatically edited the captions to the remaining 96 posts in a bid to to reveal the manipulation, mundanity, and even insecurity behind them. O’Neill did not respond to requests for an interview.

A photo of her wearing a bikini, once captioned “Things are getting pretty wild at my house. Maths B and English in the sun,” has been edited: “see how relatable my captions were – stomach sucked in, strategic pose, pushed up boobs. I just want younger girls to know this isn’t candid life, or cool or inspirational. It’s contrived perfection made to get attention.”

“Why would you tell your followers that you’re paid a lot to promote what you promote? Why would you tell your followers that you literally just do shoots every day to take pictures for Instagram?” she said in a 22-minute vlog posted to YouTube, titled “HOW PEOPLE MAKE 1000’s ON SOCIAL MEDIA”. “Like, it’s not cool. No one thinks that’s radical, or revolutionary.

“Yet I, myself, was consumed by it. This was the reason why I quit social media: for me, personally, it consumed me. I wasn’t living in a 3D world.”

“I remember I obsessively checked the like count for a full week since uploading it,” she wrote of her first-ever post, a selfie that now has close to 2,500 likes. “It got 5 likes. This was when I was so hungry for social media validation ... Now marks the day I quit all social media and focus on real life projects.”

This includes letsbegamechangers.com, O’Neill’s new site “aimed to inspire constant QUESTIONING”, where there’s “no likes or views or followers … just my content as raw as I want”. In her first post, dated 31 October, she challenged her followers to go a week without social media, and recommended Eckhart Tolle’s book The Power of Now.

The site will cover “veganism, creative imagery with purpose, poems, writing, interviews with people that inspire me, and of course the finical reality behind deluding people off Instagram” [sic]. She will continue to post videos about vegan eating to YouTube, but Vimeo (“made to help not to get views or $$$”) will “host all the new quality content”.

This article was first published in the Guardian.com. Read the full article