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Wednesday, November 4, 2015

My Take on Essena O'neill's 'Social Media is Not Real Life'

If you're regular on social media, I'm pretty sure by now you would have known about the latest news sensation of how Essena O'neill, an Australian model/social media personality with more than half a million followers on Instagram, 200,000 Youtube subscribers and Tumblr followers, and 60,000 views on Snapchat decided to quit social media altogether. Well, she still kept those accounts except that she stopped updating them.

She deleted 2,000 photos of herself on Instagram which she claimed "served no real purpose other than self-promotion", and "dramatically edited the captions of the 96 posts in a bid to reveal the manipulation, mundanity and even insecurity behind them" (The Guardian).
Image taken from

If you haven't got a clue on what this news is all about, you can read all about it at the links from various news sources below:


I read about it first thing yesterday morning and thought to myself, "Wow, radical". If quitting social media is helping her cope with her insecurity issues, good for her, and didn't give much thought to the whole news...

...until I started seeing on my Facebook timeline on how my friends shared her article, and suddenly taking a 180 degree turn agreeing with her that social media is not real life, that social media is fake and a lie. Suddenly everyone is thinking that everything they see on social media isn't real, and that every product placement or sponsored posts on social media are lies. People have suddenly gone hating on things they see on social media. Wow, that's real fast, people.

You see, this whole thing about how Essena O'neill quitting social media isn't as simple/straightforward as it appears to be. There are a lot of underlying issues as to why she decided to do so, and before we quickly jump on the bandwagon to point fingers and taking sides, I feel we should all sit back and evaluate what really is going on, what message Essena is really spreading and how valid/healthy it is.

One of the reasons why I initially decided not to give much thought to this was because I knew the whole social media subject is much more complex than it seems. To really dig deep and analyse the issue would take lots of time and effort, and being 34 weeks pregnant at this point, that's not exactly what I want to focus on right now. Also, I thought that well, this was probably just another trending story before it dies down soon, just the way news works on social media.

But what I read on my Facebook timeline left me feeling uncomfortable and, slightly disturbed. I feel uncomfortable at the fact that many people are so, so easily swayed by what they read online. It's a fact that people love sensational news. People love seeing "radical change", and seeing how much "sacrifice" someone makes to "create change". Things like this will generally attract a lot of attention and applause. But before we give our applause, let's look closely at what's really happening.

These 3 videos below were taken from her website,

On the other hand, you get her friends coming out to tell their side of the story.

And this morning, I came across this post shared by some friends on Facebook:

Photo source: Zack James on Facebook

I must say that the Facebook post above did give a different perspective to this whole saga, and I do agree with what Zack James said in his post.

After spending hours upon hours reading up articles, going through Essena's postings and watching her videos again and again, here's my take on her view of social media:

What I agree with Essena O'neill:

1) Don't let people, numbers and social approval define you.

"I think it's freeing when you don't let people define you, when you don't let numbers define you, when you don't let social approval define you. Don't let them define you."

I totally agree with this. I think overall one of the main messages that Essena is trying to spread is this, to let young girls know (and her 12 year old self), that numbers, likes and social approval doesn't define who you are and your value.

Having sisters as young as 7-12 years old at home, I appreciate that she's speaking to audiences at this age because at their young age, it's easy to be deceived into thinking that numbers of followers and likes mean everything in life. I applaud her effort in voicing out this point because young girls or even older girls/guys who think this way need to hear this.

2) Go out there and do something, speak to real people, live life, create change.

"Can you believe that once getting off social media, I actually just find myself looking at trees, I actually just find myself looking at nature, and I'm like, "Oh damn that's f*ng cool". I find myself just listening to people, and analysing why people do things - Why do we do things? What can we change about this?"

This is a good and healthy, positive message. Sure, there's life outside social media. Instead of looking at our phones all the time, we should take a look outside, talk to people face to face, look them in the eyes and think of how we can create positive change in our community.

Perhaps Essena has just found out about life outside social media so she's being extremely ecstatic at the fact that she's starting to appreciate nature and people and doing meaningful things in life. I respect that she's heavily emphasising on "living life" because she's probably JUST begun her journey in doing so, which is cool. But that doesn't mean it's not already happening.

A lot of people including myself are already living a life like this, regular social media users or individuals who earn from social media. We don't put them up on social media doesn't mean it isn't already happening.

Now, here are some of the things that I disagree with or find questionable about Essena's statements:

1) "I don't care about numbers"

In her video, 'Why I think social media sucks', she made the following statements:

"I'm keeping my Youtube and Instagram as little symbols that I did quit"

"Please, please, can someone make something that isn't based on views, likes and followers."

"If you're in a tech aspect, can you make an app that's not based on social approval but based on quality? I will promote it, I will use it and I think a lot of people will really love it."

"Let's say to each other that we're more than a f*ng number, we're more than how good we look in that photo, or we're more than how great we can dress ourselves up."

"I don't care about all the other crap, I don't care about numbers, I care about a feeling, about change."

Yes, I actually played and paused her videos to get these out word for word, because I want you to know that I'm not making anything up. From all her videos we can gather that, 'she does not care about numbers'. That is why, according to her, she moved from using Youtube to Vimeo because it is not based on the number of views and likes, but based on quality of content. 

But did you know that you can also see how many views you're getting on your videos on Vimeo? She may not allow the public to view her Vimeo stats, but she herself would be able to see how many people views her videos, which, to date, would probably be over a million people considering just how viral this has been going.

And then, in her next video, "These People Exist", she talks about just how overwhelmed she is that she's receiving 200,000 views on her new website-

"I looked outside and it was like, really, really bright. I actually did see the sunrise, it's actually really beautiful, but again I didn't take a photo of it, I didn't automatically got up and film, I just sat there on my bed thinking, "Holy hell, there's 200,000 people actively viewing my site, like that's crazy, and that's a lot of people that wanna change stuff themselves, the world."

Wait a minute. I thought you said you don't care about the numbers??

If you really don't care, you wouldn't even bother checking out the stats for your website. I find her statements contradicting. 

And also, these 200,000 people who view your website are curious people like me who want to find out just what is really going on, not really 200,000 people who wanna change the world. To think that way is just...delusional. If I'm getting 200,000 views on my blog, I won't be assuming that I have 200,000 people who are genuinely interested in my life. Probably more than half of them are just dropping by out of curiosity to find out what my site is all about.

And is it just me who finds the statement she made above very weird? She said she saw the sunrise and no, she did not take a photo of it nor did she get up and film the sunrise. Instead, she sat on her bed marvelling at the fact that there are 200,000 people actively viewing her site. WHAT?

I'm very confused.

2) YouTube Sucks.

"I don't wanna be on YouTube because it has money, I feel patronised on Youtube. There's just so many people watching, comparing, and it's just such an arghhh place. I hate the idea of bullshit ads on my videos."

First of all, let me just say this.


You have a choice whether or not to allow "bullshit ads" on your video, girl. If you hate them so much, disable ads on your videos! But you didn't, because as much as you hated the "bullshit ads", you loved the fact that those very ads generate income for you. And if you don't like the money that YouTube is offering you, don't accept it! Disable ads. Don't accept product sponsorships and paid engagements. Simple!

Don't be such a hypocrite. Don't blame the whole YouTube community for your own choice. Don't paint a bad picture of YouTube and everyone else on it making it seem as if whoever else is still on YouTube are there all for the fame and money, while the ones who focus on quality content are on Vimeo because they "don't care about the numbers".

3) Instagram Sucks. Ads are lies. Whoever does product placements on their platforms are liars.

"I'm almost taking myself off YouTube to make sure that this is never about views or likes or followers. This is about me feeling good and sharing it. That's it. Because I feel like if you focus on you really feeling good and inspired and learning, it's just gonna be REAL. If you're thinking about followers, or money or likes, what you say and what you do, it can never be from the heart. Really it can't, you know?"

Erm, no.

As a blogger and someone who does sponsored posts on Instagram (tho I'm nothing compared to her following), I feel insulted by her generalisation. Her being fake on social media doesn't mean that others who are on it and generating income from it just like she did are fake too and not doing things "from the heart".

What she's essentially saying is that, the moment you're paid/remunerated to review/use/promote/shout out about a certain service/product/event/social cause, what you SAY and DO can NEVER be from the heart. When money is involved, everything become fake and lies. Really?

If that was the case for you, wearing and promoting a dress that you don't like or promoting a tea brand that you don't believe in, means that you're not being honest on social media, doesn't mean that the rest of the people who promote things on social media are lying too.

I'm very selective with the brands that I collaborate with on my blog and social media, and will never promote or urge my blog readers/followers to try or buy certain products if I don't think it's good or believe in it myself. Being a huge Apple fan girl, I've many times turned down collaboration opportunities with other smartphone brands that are willing to pay heaps, because I honestly don't believe in them. I don't use them, won't use them and so I will not pretend to like them or even ask my readers/followers to buy them. That's my personal stand. Apple does NOT pay for advertising, but I don't care. I want to be honest and true to myself and to the people who follow me on my social media platforms who trust me enough to follow me in the first place. I told myself to never betray their trust from the very beginning. You can ask my blog managers. I never hesitate to turn other smartphone advertorials down.

This isn't just my stand alone, but also the same for many of my blogger friends too. They will not pick up products that they don't believe in no matter how much they're paid to do so.

And when we get paid/rewarded for promoting a product/service on social media, it doesn't mean that whatever we say about it are lies. So why do we get paid if we genuine think a certain product/service is good, you may ask?

It's because it takes a lot of time to take nice photos that do justice to the brand/product that we're promoting, and to think of how to write honest yet interesting blog entries/social media captions that are relevant to our followers. All these things take time, and time = money. It's only fair that for the work and effort we put in it, we get remunerated for it. It can be both a paid AND honest review.

Probably that's not the case for Essena since she publicly admitted that she lied for all her past paid posts on Instagram. What may be true for her doesn't apply to everybody else.

I feel the need to clarify this because what Essena did is damaging to the whole social media community. I don't want you to be led into thinking from now on that whoever promotes things on social media are lying because they're paid. There are exceptions, people. Essena lied and lacked integrity with her paid posts, but that doesn't mean that the rest of us are just like her.

4) Social media sucks. So, I quit.

Social media is a platform. It's a TOOL.
A tool can't be evil unless you use it for an evil purpose.

Social media is just like a modern day television. There are ads on TV, loads of them! There are misleading messages that are in TV series and movies shown on the TV. But does this mean that the TV sucks and we should quit watching TV?

The cinema shows ads after ads before a movie is being played. In most movies, there are tons of misleading, unhealthy messages displayed. But does this mean that the cinema sucks and we should stop going to the cinema?

Having a child on the way, it sometimes makes me wonder just how the social media landscape will be in 5-10 years time. It's going to be harder than ever to teach our future generation about what's right and what's wrong, and how to perceive things in this world.

But one thing I will not do, is to teach my kids how to quit and how to ESCAPE when things turn ugly.

You see, what Essena is doing here is quitting and escaping. Instead of dealing with her own insecurity issues on the inside, she's putting the blame on how social media works that MADE her insecure, lie, spending hours taking an insta-worthy photo, spending hours upon hours scrolling on Instagram to reply comments, etc.. Instead of using her huge influence to teach and inspire young girls to not be swayed by what they see on social media and believe everything they see 100%, she decided to put the blame on social media and quit, and escape.

Is she feeling more secure now that she stopped using her Youtube, Tumblr, Snapchat and Instagram? She may be, for the moment. But she still hasn't dealt with the root of the problem, which is on the inside.

We gotta teach our generation to deal with issues and SOLVE problems, not quit and escape.

5) She's extreme

"The feeling is incredible, as I was making my website as I said I wasn't sleeping, I mean, my eating was just so random, I was just like at my computer, having all these ideas, I was writing down, I had so many projects and plans like, I wanna interview people whom I believe are game changers."

"I think that culture creates validation and insecurity in likes and views...I think it's detrimental to human health and human ability."

You know what's detrimental to human health and human ability? Your extremism, Essena.

First, from being a social media personality who is "obsessed" and "addicted" to social media (according to herself, btw), starving yourself to look good in bikini for photos, layering up thick makeup to hide your acne, to suddenly completely quitting everything, not wearing makeup and dressing down in all your videos, not sleeping, not eating and just working on your new website 24/7- that, is what's really detrimental to human health and human ability.

I don't know her personally so I can't and won't judge, but based on whatever she puts up online for us to see, she appears to be swinging from one extreme to another, which is nothing to be proud of and is very unhealthy. Is this the message that she's sending to the people she's hoping to inspire?

You can have your social media platforms and still live a meaningful, fulfilled life. It's not about having one or the other, as long as you take everything in moderation and not be extreme like this.

She ended up feeling burnt out because she was "obsessed", "addicted" and just, extreme. As long as you learn to take everything you see on social media with a pinch of salt, you're good.


This post isn't meant to bash Essena O'neill. I agree with some things she said, but there are also some stuff that I disagree on and find questionable.

Nevertheless, let's bear in mind that she's only 19, talking to her 12 and 16 year old self. A few years down the road at 25 or 30, she'll probably look back at what she did today and tell herself different things. At her young age, she's excited about trying to make a positive change, which I feel is a great thing.

However, I don't agree with her taking things to the extreme and contradicting herself in the process. Don't go blaming YouTube, don't go blaming Instagram, and don't paint a bad picture of your previous sponsors and brands you used to work with. They did not force you to take their money. If you wanna quit social media, by all means, go ahead. But don't damage these brands and the social media community which is still healthy to many others. If you use social media wisely and positively, social media is a beautiful tool.

This post is more for people who have been swayed to the extreme into thinking that everything on social media are now lies. No, they're not. It highly depends on who you're following. I follow many inspiring Instagram accounts that advocate social change and spread healthy messages. It's really what you do with social media that matters.

Finally, this post is purely my personal view on this issue. Comments are welcome but I'm not interested in heavy debates. After spending the entire morning on this post, this preggers is now in need of her afternoon nap lol.

Hope this post offers a different perspective that helps you form your own convictions on this matter. Til then!

love, Careen.
This post is filed under: PersonalThoughts.


  1. Really interesting and balanced take on the whole situation. I think it's important to remember that she's 19. Nothing against young people, I'm only 24 myself, but being very recently a teenager, I know that it's very easy for teenagers to swing from one extreme to another and harder to see big pictures and nuances at that age--that's something that just tends to come with more life experience. Social media definitely is a tool and one that can be used to connect with real people and encourage and tell true stories. Just because some people lie on social media doesn't mean everyone does. And "truth" isn't always ugly things and outtakes, either. Just last week a lady who I only knew through blogging came and stayed at my house for four days while she and her husband were traveling through. That's real as anything. I've met lots of real people because of blogging and social media, and it's been a joyful part of my life. It's sad that many people find social media a joy-sucker in their own lives.

  2. On the contrary, the amount of publicity this girl's getting on this issue does sorta serve as a marketing implication to organizations that consumers are kinda fed up of seeing adverts everywhere. In the past, we could've turned off the TV and flip the page to ignore adverts. Now, it's technically shoved right in front of our faces because there are one too many "product ambassadors".


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