Teen 'Social Media Celebrity' Gives It All Up: 'It's Not Real'

Essena O'Neill urges her followers to look behind seemingly perfect images
By Evann Gastaldo,  Newser Staff
Posted Nov 3, 2015 6:15 PM CST

(Newser) – Essena O'Neill became obsessed with social media in high school. By age 16, she had 50,000 followers, and got her first offer to monetize her social media accounts: A bikini company sent her free bikinis if she'd post photos of herself wearing them; soon, the Australian teen was charging companies to post photos of herself wearing their clothes or using their products. She ultimately built up more than 570,000 Instagram followers, 250,000 YouTube subscribers, 250,000 Tumblr subscribers, and got more than 60,000 views on her Snapchat posts on average. Yet O'Neill, who turned 19 Tuesday, has quit it all, as she explains on her new website, Let's Be Game Changers. She posted a nearly 13-minute explanation of her choice here, and writes, "Never again will I let a number define me. IT SUFFOCATED ME."

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She deleted her Tumblr and Snapchat accounts, Business Insider reports, and she left Instagram up for a week, with the Sunshine Coast Daily reporting that she deleted some 2,000 photos and replaced the original captions of others with more honest ones, like this: "Was paid $400 to post a dress. ... Nothing is wrong with accepting brand deals. I just think it should be known. This photo had no substance, it was not of ethical manufacturing (I was uneducated at the time). SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REAL is my point." (Her Instagram and YouTube are now kaput, too.) What she'd really like to see (as evidenced by the capital letters): "PLEASE CAN SOMEONE MAKE A SOCIAL SHARING PLATFORM NOT BASED ON VALIDATION IN VIEWS/FOLLOWERS/LIKES BUT SHARED FOR REAL VALUE AND LOVE. THANK YOU. PLEASE HURRY UP." As for how she will make money without paid posts, well, her site is "100% free" but you can give her money anyway. (Read more social media stories.)

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