By Madeline Grandusky-Howe
Essena O’Neill’s controversial decision to delete and condemn social media is receiving major backlash, and with good reason. According to her new website, letsbegamechangers.com, O’Neill found herself “drowning in the illusion that my life wasn’t good enough in comparison to others.” Although O’Neill claims that social media ruined her life, it’s more likely that her overuse of sponsored content is to blame.
O’Neill willingly used her account to promote brands and receive compensation. She is not the first Instagram-famous individual to make a living through social media promotion. It is common practice for bloggers and public figures to charge thousands of dollars for sponsored content. Brands send bloggers merchandise for free, hoping for a shoutout on their social media accounts in return.
Although O’Neill quit major platforms such as Instagram, she recently launched a brand new website. Not wanting to compromise her integrity anymore, the aim of Letsbegamechangers.com is to be realistic. The site contains vegan-living tips, videos and other anecdotes about how much better life is without 500,000 followers. It is clear on the site that her goal is to focus on promoting her lifestyle and message, rather than her personal life, which contradicts O’Neill’s promise to “keep it real” online. If she truly wanted to keep her online presence real, she would focus on her personal life, rather than her lifestyle.
In addition, the site asks for contributions to help her fight the battle against social media addiction. She states that the funding will help her keep the website running and create more content, as well as go toward a book that will share her story. While she may not be using Instagram, the purpose of her site is still the same: to gain subscribers and promote herself.
Laura Supnik, a sophomore majoring in FBM, has an Instagram following of over 6,000. Though not as steep as O’Neill’s former following, Supnik has accumulated more followers than the average student. Despite occasionally feeling pressured to maintain an extra positive account, she keeps her social media true to her personal experiences.
“Social media to me is meant to display your personal life,” Supnik says. “That’s what it’s for. It accurately portrays one’s life because whatever you post are things that make you a person and show how you live your life, so I just happen to have a bigger following, but I still post the things I would post if I had a small following because to me social media is a form of expression, which is my ‘real life’.”
O’Neill willingly used her Instagram as a means to promote the products of others, marketing them as her lifestyle. Whether she got carried away with it or not, it was her personal decision to profit off a large follower base. Even if this impacted her life negatively, she is still using the Internet to carry her message and build a large base of subscribers.
Social media gives us the freedom to convey ourselves however we choose, in a timely manner. Most individuals who use social media don’t use it for personal gain, or to display a message; most use it to document personal experiences. The lifestyle she was displaying through social media was her choice. The content she was promoting was her downfall, not the platform.
By Andrea Navarro
Social media isn’t inherently good or bad. The way people choose to use it, however, is generally damaging.
There’s nothing wrong with editing our best-selves before deciding to post something online.
The issue comes when people are more interested in showing their lives online in order to have others admire it and “like it” than in actually enjoying the moments they are currently living. This is a generation that actually lives by the “pics or it didn’t happen” mantra. Documenting our every move seems to give proof of our existence, and therefore, of our meaning.
Like movies and TV before it, the media has always found a way to impose and reinforce values on society, telling audiences the way they should look, act and be. There’s no denying that staring at images and videos of effortlessly perfect people day after day causes a great amount of pressure for the regular tween, teen and even grown-up adult to look and sometimes even act like their favorite famous personality. But there are only so many Chiara Ferragni’s in the world.
So maybe Fan Culture is part of the problem. Why is it that regular people get famous in the first place? People that have no palpable talents like acting, singing or being athletic, attract thousands of followers, making money by taking pictures of their dinner and recording their quest to find a romantic partner.
Like Andy Warhol predicted almost 50 years ago, people will go to any extent to have their 15 minutes of fame. Reality T.V. and sites like YouTube only facilitate this. And in order for their content to stand out against the millions of other postings on the web, people are willing to do just about anything.
CNN reported that in September, a 19-year old from Texas accidentally shot himself while taking a selfie with a gun so he could post it on Instagram. Last month, according to the International Business Times, a Russian teenager died after attempting to take a picture of himself that would look as if he was falling off a building, just so he could post it on his Instagram account and gain the admiration of his followers.
It’s understood that those are extreme cases and that the regular social media-user would not go that far for a good picture. But for many college students, the pressure to appear flawless isn’t anything new. A 2003 report from Duke University describes the onus placed on female students there to be “effortlessly perfect”: smart, accomplished, fit, beautiful and popular, all without looking like they tried. Here at FIT, one should probably add fashionable to that list.
The social comparison theory states that we try to determine our worth based on how we measure up against others. And in the era of social media, such comparisons take place on a small screen that doesn’t show the full story. Mobile devices escalate the comparisons from occasional to constant, as it was reported by the Business Insider that the average user of Instagram spends around 21 minutes a day on the app.
The paradox of O’Neill wanting to stay away from the mainstream media while being covered in countless news sites is fascinating and her message should be heard; living your life for other people’s validation and admiration is vain and meaningless.
Social media should be used to engage in meaningful discussions and to get inspired through different perspectives. Of course, it can also be used to simply have fun. But if you find that you are comparing yourself to the promoted images that are all over the Internet, don’t let your confidence and self-worth take a hit. Remember, there’s always an unfollow button that you can press.