Instagram star renounces fake social media

Faking it: The social media star says she hopes for a new platform which is not based on likes.

Despite earning thousands on Instagram, teenager Essena O’Neill has quit the platform and condemned its deceptive nature. ‘Social media is not real life,’ she says. Does it matter?

Just a few days ago, Essena O’Neill had more than half a million followers on Instagram, 200,000 on YouTube, and 60,000 on Snapchat. She had built a modelling career on social media since she was 16 years old. But the day before her 19th birthday, she posted a video that would change everything: she was quitting.

‘I had the “dream life”,’ she said in a tearful confession. ‘I was surrounded by all this wealth and all this fame and all this power.’ And yet she had never felt more miserable. ‘Everything I did in a day was to be a perfect person online,’ she said. ‘Is that life?’

She deleted thousands of images on her Instagram account, leaving just a few dozen behind — with ‘edited’ captions exposing their artifice, and explaining all of the time and discomfort which went into creating supposedly ‘candid’ shots. ‘Was paid $400 to post a dress,’ said one. ‘Be aware what people promote, ask yourself, what’s their intention behind the photo?’

Now, O’Neill has started a website called Let’s Be Game Changers, hoping to encourage people to think critically about what they see on social media, and to spend more time enjoying ‘real life’ instead of worrying about numbers of likes. ‘I want to use my imagination, my individual mind, my unique take on this world,’ she wrote on the site.

Instagram, launched in 2010, was bought by Facebook for $1bn in 2012. It recently outstripped Twitter with 400 million active users. Yesterday, as Twitter replaced its ‘favourite’ button with a heart-shaped ‘like’, many saw it as an attempt to emulate the photo-sharing network.

What makes it so popular? Most experts point to the new ‘visual age’ of pocket smartphone cameras — more photos are now taken every two minutes than throughout the entire 19th century.


Instagram is famous for its filters, which enhance photos to make them look more vibrant or nostalgic, depending on your mood. Its entire purpose is to help its users present a false image of their lives — and many believe that the gap it creates between appearance and reality is fuelling loneliness and declining mental health in young people. Instagram is breeding an entire generation of deluded narcissists, some say — it’s good that someone has spoken out against it.

But we shouldn’t judge Instagram too harshly, warn others. Used carefully, it encourages people to stop and take notice of the beauty which is often overlooked in everyday life — even if that is just the froth on top of a well-made coffee. Scrolling back through your timeline becomes a welcome reminder of happy memories. Even selfies can be a great way to build self-esteem by allowing people to find and celebrate the things they like about themselves.

You Decide

  1. Would you ever consider quitting all social media?
  2. Is Instagram good or bad for people’s mental health?


  1. Write 200 words about how social media affects your life.
  2. Design a new mobile app and present it to the class. What is it used for? Who are its target audience?

Some People Say...

“In 2015, your brand is more important than your personality.”

What do you think?

Q & A

But I love social media!
That’s okay — it’s a part of the world we live in, and it can be a vital way of communicating with other people. But it can still impact your mental and physical health — for example, the artificial light from screens can disrupt sleeping patterns and strain your eyesight. Remember to take regular breaks from looking at screens, and try to limit the time you spend online to a couple of hours a day at most.
Can I make a career on Instagram?
Perhaps, although as Essena has pointed out, you may not want to. However, there are social media jobs which do not involve putting yourself in the spotlight — most commercial brands employ people to run their social media accounts, and understanding the platforms could help to give you an advantage in the world of work.

Word Watch

The all-purpose social network is still the biggest in the industry, with 1.49 billion active users every month.
400 million
Instagram reached this milestone in September. In the same period, Twitter had around 320 million active users.
19th century
The first photograph was taken in 1827 by Joseph Nicephore Niepce. He teamed up with Louis Daguerre, hoping to develop a more practical method which they could sell to the public. Niepce died before they completed the project, but Daguerre announced it to the world in 1839. It was a huge success, and millions of photos were taken over the next 60 years. It is now estimated that one trillion photos will be taken in the year 2015 alone.
Mental health
In September, a new study by the University of Glasgow found that the pressure to be ‘available 24/7’ online could be related to anxiety, depression and poor sleep in teenagers. Numerous studies have also noted the rise in mental health problems experienced by teenagers.

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