Is Essena O’Neill the Antihero of Social Media Celebrity?

A social media celebrity star shuns her own narcissistic obsession with social media and becomes an internet hero.

By Brandi Magee

Essena O'Neill smiles for a selfie. (screenshot: Instagram)

Essena O’Neill, a 19-year-old Australian social media celebrity, posted a video to her YouTube account yesterday titled “Why I REALLY am quitting social media | The Truth.”  In one day, the video has racked up over two million views.

In the more than 17-minute long rant, the O'Neill enumerates a laundry list of reasons for ‘quitting’ social media.  She tells viewers, “Everything I was doing was edited and contrived and to get more value and to get more views.”

When You'e Addicted To Social Media

Essena O'Neill had built a social media empire over the past several years, but recently she decided to make a change.

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She explains that many of the pictures taken to look like candid shots are actually paid advertisements for companies attracted to her large following.“Companies know the power of social media and they are exploiting it,” she said.“If you don’t think it’s a business, you’re deluding yourself.”

And no matter how internet famous she got, she still described herself as ‘miserable.’ “Having it all on social media means absolutely nothing to your real life,” she says in the video.

Nev Schulman explains how the internet can lead to a disconnect between people, lack of empathy.

In the days before her YouTube post, O'Neill began altering her social media sites, deleting thousands of selfies. There are a few scantily clad and perfectly posed pictures left on her Instagram page, but the captions have been changed to reflect the reality behind the pictures.

Instead of her self-obsessed social media past, she has created, where she urges people to use their voices for ‘good and positive change.’

Essena O'Neill's Instagram page still contains some of the many beauty shots she posted over the years, but with the captions altered to reflect her recent change of heart.  (screenshot: Instagram)

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But there is a strange irony in this story.  Had it not been for her strong social media following, the story of her ‘quitting’ social media would likely not have been heard. She has declared that her new website would be “100% free," promising no fixed fees or "perfectly posed Instagram product placements.”  You can, however, subscribe to the site, and if you wish can donate money on the “Pay What It’s Worth To You” button. After all, she says, “I’m not a purist. I need money to cover the basics.”

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So the internet celebrity has made a movement, urging young people to get away from the narcissism of social media, to get out and have real experiences and to figure out who you are. And she promises to post one video each weekday to remind people of that.  It’s a message certain to attract a huge following.

Essena O’Neill has more than 250,000 subscribers on YouTube. Her Instagram account had accrued over half a million followers. Since yesterday, that number has now surpassed 900,000.  

What do you think? Genuine personal growth or publicity stunt?

Nev Schulman's digital rules keep him in the moment.

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