Instagram-famous teen Essena O’Neill made headlines earlier this month for denouncing the picture-perfect lifestyle that she documents via social media. Among her criticisms were how she’d accepted money in exchange for showing off certain outfits on her Instagram, starved herself in order to gain a perfect flat stomach for images, and put in a huge effort in order to make herself look candid in her photos.
O’Neill’s commentary comes with growing criticisms of the vortex that is social media. In addition to the reasons that O’Neill cited for deactivating her Instagram, Snapchat, and YouTube accounts, others have pointed out how the pressure to keep up a certain presence or image on social media leads many to do drastic things. Even I have to confess that I will badger my friends for the best candid-looking uncandids, all in the name of making my Instagram look as sparkly as possible, and I would not describe myself as someone who cares a lot about how I look on social media, aside from being as professional as possible.
In a BBC article, O’Neill pointed out how companies are manipulating social media-famous teens to advertise for them. “[Social media] is now a business…Companies will email you with dot-points of what you should say, with times of the day to post, what you should do in the photo how you should hold the product, where you should have it in the background. Companies know the power of social media and they are exploiting it.” Many news feeds are inundated with seemingly casual photos, conveniently tagged with the names of brands.
Social media is big among young adults, who are the biggest consumers of the Internet-based phenomena. According to the Pew Research Center, 89% of Internet users aged 18-29 use some sort of social network, making services like Facebook and Twitter some of the best ways to reach a large consumer base with minimal effort. To ignore such a large group of consumers is to essentially run your business in an ineffective way; even brands from older generations, such as Sears and unorthodox ‘businesses’ like universities (Temple University ads on Spotify, for example) take advantage of this new advertising space.
More research from the Pew Research Center indicates that growing numbers of interpersonal relationships are fostered via social networking. Approximately 47% of teenagers have expressed some sort of romantic feeling by liking, commenting, or otherwise interacting with a person on social media. While data from the same group of researchers on how teens use social networking has not been updated since 2007, when comparing how teens behaved when it came to video-sharing and blogging platforms then with how teens use the expanded variety of social networking now available, rates have gone up.
What O’Neill brings to question with her criticism is how social media influences us. While there’s no doubt that it instills some sort of belief that we have to be the best person we can possibly be, the means with which we aim to do so are questionable. Is it healthy for us to be so obsessed with how we appear, both on and off the LCD screen? While it’s certainly important to take care of appearances and stay true to who we are, it’s starting to consume us in an epidemic growing bigger and bigger every day.
Cover image courtesy of The Odyssey.