Why This Social Media Star Quit Instagram

Australian 18-year-old Essena O'Neill had amassed 500,000 Instagram followers, 200,000 YouTube followers, and 60,000 Snapchat followers before she abandoned all three platforms last week. The teen built her empire with selfies, bikini shots, and fitspiration — and then, disgusted with the artifice and deception behind her internet fame, subverted it in spectacular fashion: She deleted thousands of Instagram photos and edited the captions of those that remained to reveal the truth of the painstaking effort that went into them. Then, she launched a new site, Let's Be Game Changers, plus a Vimeo channel — both of which O'Neill is using to share her thoughts on how toxic social media can be. She explains in her inaugural Vimeo video, above, that while her Instagram and YouTube accounts will remain as "little symbols that I did quit," she has deleted her Snapchat and Tumblr accounts altogether.
For most of us, unlike for O'Neill, social media does not constitute a career. But any one of us with an excessive Instagram-scrolling habit or a tendency to monitor the number of likes on our Facebook posts (guilty) can relate to her perspective. "I spent endless hours everyday on social media," O'Neill writes on her site. "Before I made myself well-known, I studied it relentlessly. My parents argue I would have spent at least 50 hours a week at this so-called hobby... My success was largely in the hands of my white privilege and genetics. I was thin, tanned, toned, blonde, with a big smile and a push-up bra."
Now, O'Neill plans to use her platform to promote veganism, environmental awareness, social issues, and conscious living. "I have a range of interviews, projects, and features I cannot wait to share," she writes. "I want to create a site with a community sense of collaboration and desire to help action change; this heavily involves individuals submitting their own game-changing work and ideas, for all of us to share and learn."
The irony here, of course, is that O'Neill's shift in direction has provoked a huge response on social media. She now has nearly 600,000 Instagram followers, many of whom are expressing their gratitude for her honesty via comments. O'Neill won't continue to add content to her Instagram, however, and has expressed her desire for a platform that isn't fueled by public approval: "Please can someone make a social sharing platform not based on validation in views/followers/likes but shared for real value and love?" she writes. "Please hurry up." If anyone has any ideas, we'd love to hear them.

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