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Why it's possible to be liked too much on social media

Published 14/11/2015

Secret pain: behind the acclaim, many people find social media very troubling
Secret pain: behind the acclaim, many people find social media very troubling

An Australian who had a huge online following has deleted her Instagram account abruptly and revealed the painful truth behind her seemingly-perfect life. So, should more of us follow Essena O'Neill's example and take a step back, asks Katie Wright?

On the day she quit social media for good, Essena O'Neill had 575,000 Instagram followers - a figure most people can only dream of - and was making a living from being paid by brands to wear their clothes and mention their products in her posts. So why the sudden change of heart?

"I was addicted to social approval and I didn't even realise," the 19-year-old explains in a video on Let's Be Game Changers (www.letsbegamechangers.com), the new ad and sponsorship-free site she's set up to encourage others to go cold turkey.

"Looking back, I see someone who wasn't happy with herself ... she was scared that people only liked her for how she looked," the teen continues, saying that her supposedly candid (often bikini-clad) shots were actually painstakingly posed and that the constant yearning for more likes, views and subscribers on Instagram, YouTube, SnapChat and Tumblr, was making her feel miserable and insecure.

Reactions on O'Neill's new site have been unanimously positive, with hundreds of comments - many from teens - praising her bravery and honesty.

"You just described the biggest struggle in my life," wrote one, with others vowing to delete all their social apps.

Not everyone has been quite so empathetic, however, particularly as O'Neill has now asked for financial support from fans, and several Los Angeles-based vloggers have fought back with videos of their own after they were branded, as a group, "fake" and "miserable" by the Australian.

"It's not heroic, it's just mean," twin YouTubers Nina and Randa whined in a 13-minute video rant that essentially blamed O'Neill's about-face on a bad break-up.

Gossip and speculation aside, the incident raises some questions about the influence of social media on self-esteem.

Is it inevitable that posting - or even just viewing - a flood of seemingly-perfect pictures every day will lead to a crisis of confidence? Or is it possible to be active on social networks without spiralling into an addiction to approval?

Of course, it's the latter and it will take more than one Instagram implosion to bring down social media, but it's refreshing to see someone effectively removing the mask of self-assurance she's worn for years.

If that helps others to take a more balanced approach to their digital existence and realise that reaching half-a-million followers isn't a sure-fire route to happiness, that's no bad thing.

Belfast Telegraph

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