The recent articles about Essena O’Neill’s partial exodus from social media wants us all to feel like idiots for believing anything we see on social media. Is blindly believing a confused 19 year old girl any better?


To be honest, I didn’t know how to begin this article. I have so much I want to say. I initially wrote a status on my personal Facebook outlining my thoughts and feelings, but I felt like I wanted to use my blog for the purpose it is intended: for me to have a voice.

For a little background, Essena O’Neill, a 19 year old Australian “instafamous” girl had an epiphany of sorts, and then stated publicly that she was deleting social media for good, because it “isn’t real life”. People were quick to praise her for being brave and taking such a strong stance in outing social media for the so called “fakery”. This morning I woke up to my entire Facebook feed saturated with photos of her and every major news website from NY Times, the BBC, to The Daily Mail had picked up the story. It was spreading like digital wildfire – clearly her “plan” has succeeded.

I have a lot to say about the way she went about it. I feel there’s an inherent hypocrisy in using her popular social channels to tell people social media is a lie. If you truly believe social media to be so shallow, you stop posting without the fanfare. Leaving with such a song and dance leads me to believe she has done this for ulterior motives which I’ll touch on later. Some would argue that she announced it so she could initiate a conversation and people would begin to see social media for the falseness and the lies. Let’s be real for a moment here, who in 2015 doesn’t realise Instagram is a curated version of people’s lives?

At this point I feel it’s become a cliche to deride social media as “not real life”. The mainstream media loves to push articles that tell us things we already know, so we can say “I already knew that” and feel a little smarter. You already know that people aren’t their Instagram feed. Social media as a whole isn’t a lie, it’s how you choose to portray yourself and if you choose to create a false representation of yourself, then you, yourself are the lie. Social media is a daily online escape for people and I think that is okay.

O’neill has created a narrative about people who work online, on social media, et al, that isn’t accurate for everyone who uses it and unfortunately for the people who use social media for a positive influence, or in a different way to the way she has, she has painted them in a negative light that just isn’t correct. You can’t speak for the masses just because you’re unhappy with your own life. Not everyone lives a blatantly obvious manufactured life. Not every blogger is promoting a brand when they post a photo on Instagram, not every person is being paid for an instagram post – and if you are, then quite frankly you’re a complete sell out. Maybe that was Essena’s problem, maybe she realised she was selling out.

Social media is a powerful force – it can empower or give a voice to a individual or a group who would have been marginalised. It can help people gain confidence in themselves and promote positive messages. Take some of Instagrams biggest fitness influences for example. Think of how many people Kayla Itsines, Felicia and Diana of Base Body Babes and Tara Stiles have helped gain self-confidence and control of their lives. My theory is: If you choose to spend a day taking a photo in a bikini on an iPhone (one claim amongst many that seems pretty dubious) and pass it off as good content / while happily taking the company’s money for it, then that is on you. Maybe you should take a look inward and reflect on how you use your time. I’m sure she felt so guilty she returned all the money.

Social media has helped me find my voice, and it has allowed me to collaborate with fantastic individuals, creatives and brands and it has allowed me to create a career for myself, through networking, dedication and a lot of hard work. Don’t get me wrong though, I know all too well that social media can have a negative effect on people. A year and a half ago I wrote an article on The Pressures Of Social Media. I touched on the “common misconception”, my “love / hate relationship with social media”, how I like to “keep it real”. I also mentioned that I too had crappy days where I felt like I had to compare myself to other people on social media. I have since learned that social media can be whatever you want it to be. If you choose to use it in a positive, wise way, social media is a positive, wise endeavour.

If you’re a brand or an individual using social media, you’re putting an image out to the world. If you’re building an unrealistic image of yourself; eg. as someone who is perfect and faultless, that’s not going to work. How are you meant to actually live up to that? If you choose to edit your life to come across seemingly perfect, then that is on you. If you feel that you are comparing yourself to others and you feel like you have to produce perfection all the time, it’s time you take a step back from who you are following and what you are getting out of those accounts. You’re the only person who can allow yourself to fall into a dark hole of falseness. You can’t blame social media – you have to take responsibility.

My biggest issue with the way Essena O’Neill went about things is on one hand she was depicting social media to be this murky, deceitful place, but if she really believed that, why in the same breath did she push a new agenda – pointing people towards her new Vimeo account and website (which I refuse to link to). I’m sorry, but why is she still promoting herself on social media? I can’t help but feel like Essena finally took the advice given to her by YouTube personality Duranrider, some four months earlier – she definitely did go global – You can view that here:

In closing, there may be social pressures and media pressures, but that’s nothing new, they have always been there. Every generation has had their battles. In 2015, we’re just more accessible to things, so it is highlighted a lot more.

What it all comes down to is, some of us choose to post an accurate version of ourselves, and some choose to post an unrealistic portrayal of perfection. And for the people who try and be perfect, that’s your choice, of course that won’t be fulfilling or have longevity. No one ever said it would. It’s unattainable and no one has forced you to live in a make believe world.

It’s your choice.

Lastly, It’s interesting to see someone who is “done” with social media post an incredibly histrionic video on social media just this morning. The drama and duplicity of social media have apparently been stripped away and replaced with theatrics that would make the “leave Britney alone” guy embarrassed. I mean, was she crying all day? Did she wait until she was crying before she hit “record”. The whole exercise reeks of disingenuity. She says “she’s really happy with the attention her story is getting.” – I bet she is.

What I want you to take away from this article is consistency. Be who you are in your real life, online.

Images: Beginning Boutique and Google

Author: Ally Carey

Hi, I am Ally, a writer and creative at Substance. I have worked in the fashion industry for 6+ years as a model and now on Substance. Substance is a lifestyle blog about fashion, beauty, health and self-improvement; hoping to inspire you to live a life filled with Substance. For more: @AllyMayCarey

26 thoughts on “This Just In: Social Media Isn’t Real”

  1. Thank you so much for i was trying to explain to my 15 year old daughter exactly what you wrote thank you for making her see sense

    1. Hi Bree,

      I am so glad you let your 15 year old daughter read this. Thank you.
      It means a lot that you took the time to explain SM to her and her choices.
      Coming from someone who works online I thought it would be interesting
      to share my point of view.

      Thanks again,

  2. Great read Ally. Well written with some great points for everyone to consider. I could imagine you saying it as I read through, which shows your true voice and that is really what it’s all about. Regardless of her intentions this girl appears to have quite a few things to work through and hopefully she finds a much more appropriate method for doing that.

    1. Hey Christie! Yay, I am glad you could hear my voice! That’s my whole point: Be who you are in person online, in real life. Who you are to your friends / family! X
      Thanks for reading lovely.

  3. I absolutely adore your article! Not everyone portrays a false persona on social media, and I love following people with passion for what they do because it’s inspiring. The amount of love and positive messages that can be spread because you have a place to globally voice your opinions shouldn’t be so harshly criticized. This article is defiantly worth the share!

  4. I see total value in your article and the general reaction I’ve see online today to Essena’s stance. I don’t completely agree with the way she has done it, but I think the genuine point she is trying put across has been missed. The message she is putting out there is that you shouldn’t be defined by numbers on social media. She is still only 19 years old, and growing up the way she did so publically with a pressure to be perfect is something that not many of us can distinctly relate to. Women have always felt a pressure to compare themselves to beautiful celebrities, however now with social media, as young women we are being compared to each other, in a constant competition of who gets the most likes. I completely agree that the way we use social media and how it makes us feel is our own responsibility. However, I think that what we should be actually praising her for is her calling out social media for creating a pressure on young, and easily influenced teenagers, that these ‘likes’ online can truly have a detrimental affect on the value young people assign to their self worth.

  5. I agree with you 100%! I think the whole way she went about this was all wrong and so inconsistent. If you’re going to remove yourself from social media, don’t set up new accounts and still post videos on youtube after saying that you were done with the whole thing. I found it extremely odd that she asked people to check out her new blog which conveniently has a donation button there as well. Like you said, I think this is exactly the reaction she wanted. Social media is what you make it and it’s sad that she couldn’t make it work for her. Thankyou for writing this! x

  6. Hey Ally, I enjoyed your read and definitely felt several of your points resinated with me. It was interesting to hear your overall point of view as I myself am of the opinion that what Essena has chosen to do with her online space has been a bold and beautiful gesture.
    Ultimately I agree with you, not everyone who uses social media for their work or personal life is using it for ‘negative/untruthful’ reasons. However I don’t feel that she is attempting to prove this, I think for the most part her point is that the curated and manipulated reality that is social media (common sense or not) can be very harmful. As she frequently reiterates, her 12 year old self saw these beautiful images and lives through the constructed imagery of Instagram (and the likes) and believed her life did not match up. Whilst her ‘real life’ may have been influenced in a way to strive for only the ‘post worthy’ ie. 101 selfies to get the best shot, I would agree that many of us often shape our lives around social media, not the other way around. In this sense, life can often feel a poor second best. As you said much of this is common sense, we of course only show the best parts of our lives/selves/wardrobe on social media. However, it is an undeniable fact that this will no doubt have a negative reflection for some, if not most (at some point). In Essena’s case this is obviously her qualm with her rise to fame. To that I say good on you for calling yourself out. It takes a lot to reflect so publicly.
    Honestly I think her choice to quit ‘mainstream social media’ and take on a new challenge ie. her website and Vimeo channel is a way of proving her dedication to help those who are of a similar school of thought. It would seem strange and an unusual notion if she were to quit her online presence entirely, what would be the point if not to get your point across? Obviously these videos, interviews and publications of her decisions are in an effort to showcase her plight, I don’t see the problem with this. She is not calling out the total use of media in general, just her own use of careful curation as a means to showcase a life that was not real.

    1. Hi Jessica, thanks for commenting.

      I didn’t write this article for people to have the same point of view as me, so it’s great that you have your own opinion. I think that’s the beauty with opening up a discussion. If everyone agreed on everything, the world would be a very boring place.

      Thanks for giving your input.


  7. Brilliantly written and while I applaud her for no longer wanting to portray perfection, for most of us we already know this is not obtainable. I too felt a little cynical about the way she delivered her message and made social media feel as it is a terribly awful place, social media should never take over your life, you should just enjoy it for what it is and know that everyone is posting their highlight reels not their behind the scenes.

    1. Thank you for reading and taking the time to comment. It’s an escape for people and like I said – I think that’s great. X

  8. Everyone uses social media differently and social media affects everyone differently. I think what’s most important is that it has started a really good global discussion.

  9. “Not every blogger is promoting a brand when they post a photo on Instagram, not every person is being paid for an instagram post – and if you are, then quite frankly you’re a complete sell out.”
    I would love to know how much you charge per post.

    1. My point Pamela is if every single post on IG or your blog is sponsored, then that’s selling out.

      How much money do you earn a year? #samequestion

  10. I love this article so much. This girl is all over my Facebook feed and just reading what she has to about people who work in social media eg bloggers ect is a load of crap. Your right not of all get paid for posts and if we get to work with an amazing brand and maybe get paid along the way that’s fantastic but not every post a blogger or instagramer does is a paid post. Social media is a great platform to create a brand for yourself and a excellent way to be creative. And I don’t see why people now how a problem with social media.
    Thanks so much for this article babe. Killing it with the truth


  11. Just out of interest, what proportion of your posts involve some kind of sponsorship/payment in exchange for your comments?

  12. You totally nailed every single points that I felt when I watched her video with my partner. It was unbearable to watch, when it felt like she had only overgeneralised social media in a negative light through the pretentious life she was living — or decided to live with. I love this particularly sentence you have written so eloquently, “You can’t speak for the masses just because you’re unhappy with your own life.”

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