Social Media: Authentically Inauthentic?

Before the invention of social media, the word “celebrity” was reserved for people who walked the red carpet. Fame was earned by movie roles, album releases, and tv series’ success. The invention of social media has led to a new kind of celebrity where success is not determined by Grammy or Emmy nominations, but instead by number of likes, favorites, and retweets. Social media platforms like Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Vine, and YouTube have opened new doors for users of any age who have a quick wit, an innovative idea, or are simply great at marketing themselves.

Essena O’Neill earned her celebrity status in high school through Instagram, blogging and YouTube. The beautiful, fit Australian posted pictures that accumulated thousands of likes and repeatedly landed spots on Instagram’s “popular” page. Brands noticed and began reaching out to her to endorse their products to her half a million followers. These opportunities led to modeling deals in Los Angeles, California. As far as internet stardom goes, Essena had made it. She was making a career out of what people perceived as her “being herself” online. enhanced-13518-1446650321-1

Recently, the 18-year-old has been making headlines for a different reason: she not only quit social media but is publicly condemning it. Essena quit social media in pursuit of a more authentic life. She created a website titled Let’s Be Game Changers to explain her choice and to encourage others to live more authentically. In a blog titles Social Media is not Real Life she writes, “social media -as the current system of numbers and money dictates- is not genuine life. It’s purely contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes and dislikes, validation in views, success in followers… it’s perfectly orchestrated judgement.” Essena claims she was paid hundreds of dollars by companies for sharing a single picture of her wearing their product.

Thanks to postmodern consumer culture, it’s become the social norm to define yourself using brand names. So, is it so wrong for Instagram users to accept payment for posting pictures of themselves wearing brands? Essena thinks so. “They don’t tell you (just like I didn’t) because then any conscious minded individual would distrust their judgment and therefore not blindly buy the product. If the influencer told you that they made $1000 from the promotion it would completely contradict the company’s aim.”

Essena brings up an interesting point about brands and social media transparency. However, was she at fault for playing a part in fooling her audience? Andrew Potter takes a deeper look into brand transparency in his novel The Authenticity Hoax using what he defines as “plagiarism”. His definition states it is “a form of intellectual dishonesty that has the desire for concealment or deception at it’s aim.” Essena admits her previously inauthentic lifestyle was dictated by the pressure to be popular on social media and the endorsement of brands.

Essena has received an abundance of positive feedback about her decision to quit social media. However, not everyone agrees with the stance she is taking. Social media CEO and popular YouTube vlogger Zack James claims: “Social media can be whatever the user desires it to be. Allowing yourself to become pressured into a false life that you’re uncomfortable with is the result of your own actions and intent. The inability to define yourself, your life, your own sense of confidence comes from a lack of trying to understand yourself.”

Does Essena have a right to hold social media responsible for her lack of living an authentic lifestyle? Comment your thoughts below!

-Griffin Weidele, Austin Moody, Luci Keefer, Allen Wooten, Scott Uraro

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4 thoughts on “Social Media: Authentically Inauthentic?

  1. I was following this story when it happened and thought it was very interesting. I agree with Essena in a way because sometimes fame and endorsements seem cool at first but then when it’s too late you see your life change for the worse or becomes more stressed to be perfect. I also agree with the opposing side because in some cases it is the social media “celebs” actions that out them in that predicament.

  2. I believe she does have some rights to hold social media responsible because once you get caught up in a virtual life it shapes you into something that isn’t you. You become what the media wants you to become and lose originality. You copy trends and to me that seems like it could lead to everyone having too many similarities. If we all use social media and influence each other’s clothing styles, hobbies, and behaviors then the world just starts to feel boring. Everything blends together too well and nothing stands out anymore.

  3. Social media, even in its earliest forms, has been around for over a decade now. Most users understand that their social media shows part of their life, not all of it. We choose certain poses for our pictures and select filters to add. If we don’t like how we look in the photo, we delete it and start over. We understand that some of the things we post may be our true opinions, but each post or upload is selected based on certain criteria and social standards. These images are part of the story but are not all true to the everyday life of the individual on the screen.

    Like Essena, many YouTubers are being asked to promote brands in their videos. Some people clearly state in the title of their video that they are advertising a product; others tell their followers about their agreements with certain brands. Perhaps Essena could have done something like that to make those business transactions more transparent and feel more authentic.

  4. Social media has such a negative connotation on itself. It’s truly what you make of it. I support Essena’s decision to quit social media but shes the one that created the “beast” that shes trying to convince us gives her a less authentic life. Everything that I post on my social media is completely authentic to me. I agree what the YouTube Vlogger was saying that social media is truly what you make of it. That’s why you’re allowed to add and remove friends at your choosing. You create the life you want to share on social media.

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