Meaningful Connections and Social Media – An Opinion Piece on InstaCeleb Essena O’Neill

AEighteen year-old Australian model and InstaCeleb, Essena O’Neill abandoned her social media empire and lambasted the industry as contrived and deceptive. She commanded 500,000 Instagram followers, 200,000 YouTube followers, and 60,000 Snapchat followers before calling it quits last week.

In her last Instagram post on October 27, she wrote, “I’ve spent the majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status, and my physical appearance,” “[Social media] is contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation, in views, success in followers. it’s perfectly orchestrated self-absorbed judgment[sp].”

And in her last YouTube video, she states “Taking myself off social media is a wake-up call to anyone and everyone who follows me. I had the ‘dream life.’ To a lot of people I ‘made it’…I was surrounded by all this wealth, power, and fame, and yet I had never been so miserable. I was the girl who had it all and I’m telling you that having it all on social media means absolutely nothing to your real life… everything I was doing was edited and contrived to get more likes, more views and more followers…When you let yourself be defined by numbers, you let yourself be defined by something that is not real, that is not pure, and that is not love,” she says.

And as irony would have it, this announcement exploded on social media, ultimately going viral and even making traditional media headlines. Essena didn’t just have an epic meltdown and wage war on social media. She launched a new website called Lets Be Game Changers, which is focused on conscious living, environmental awareness, social issues, gender equality and more. She writes that she wants to “make the positive collaborative forum for individuals to talk about REAL WORLD stuff, connect over ideas not likes, followers or views.”

Essena previously built a facade and worked tirelessly to maintain a contrived image. Her friends claim this new movement against social media is a hoaxB and the real impetus for calling it quits is a breakup. This is because Essena made broad generalizations and assumptions about other social media influencers, others that may for all intents and purposes be authentic. Regardless, she struck a chord with millions about our society and our obsession with social media.

Essena made a bold choice and abandoned everything she worked so hard to build in order to escape her loneliness.  Maybe the purported breakup was her aha moment, but those feelings have been percolating for a long time. Essena is seeking connection based on authenticity, substance and meaning.

Professor Sydney Engelberg states that we have known for years that the components necessary for overcoming loneliness include a psychological sense of community, true emotional and social support and emotional and social intelligence. This movement is Essena’s attempt to connect with purpose.

The main take away for brands is to partner with influencers that believe in your organization’s purpose, where the consumer communication is authentic and the paid relationship is transparent yet meaningful. Fewer authentic partnerships are stronger than many lacking connection.

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