Instagram to Insta-gone


Kelly Kennedy/The USD Vista  USD students seem to use cell phones and social media obsessively.

Kelly Kennedy/The USD Vista
USD students seem to use cell phones and social media obsessively.

In a world of likes and comments controlled by followers, it seems nearly impossible to break free of social media. However, one millennial did the unthinkable: she quit social media.

Last week, Instagram celebrity Essena O’Neill deleted her account, as well as most of her other online presences, including Snapchat and YouTube. Before deleting everything off her most popular social media platform, O’Neill took to her Instagram account to edit the captions. She changed all of the text to tell the truth behind the photos. Some of her explanations include confessions that she was posing strategically, with her stomach sucked in and her boobs pushed up.

O’Neill is an average 18-year-old Australian teenager. While she had a fairly typical life as a first-year college student, she had an astounding online presence attracting over 500,000 followers on Instagram. She had become what many are calling an Instagram celebrity, which usually refers to an individual who becomes seemingly famous through the social media platform.

However, O’Neill’s celebrity status from her social media presence started to eat away at her. According to Cosmopolitan magazine, O’Neill’s online persona ultimately dissolved in the social media sphere. After reflecting on the negative impact social media had on her life, she decided give up her online celebrity title and abandon her internet life.

In her final Instagram post last month, O’Neill shared her thoughts about the growing platform and its impact on her millennial life.

“I’ve spent the majority of my teenage life being addicted to social media, social approval, social status, and my physical appearance,” O’Neill said. “[Social media] is contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation, in views, success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated self-absorbed judgement.”

With social media’s usage prevalent on our campus, some Toreros applauded her efforts.

Senior Eden Frost thought the overall message was positive, although she was skeptical of the extent that social media is to blame for the current issues online.

“It was refreshing to see someone admit to how fake the presence that people have on social media can be,” Frost said. “With Essena’s campaign to quit social media, I think she has some pretty good messages to get out there, but it isn’t just social media’s fault.”

Recent studies have pointed to signs that increased feelings of insecurity grow with increased usage of social media. One recent study was published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences, which has solicited attention from the Huffington Post.

Huffington Post reported that the study shows that the more active an individual is on social media sites the more sensitive these users may be to the feedback they receive on the site. While the study focused primarily on Facebook, these findings can be applied to other social media sites, particularly Instagram.

On our own campus, Frost completed a small research project about social media on our own campus. Her study found that Instagram is the most preferred social media platform used among USD students, with over 93 percent of Frost’s sample using it.

Even though everyone in the sample had Facebook, they preferred using Instagram, most commonly for looking at photos.

“While students do communicate on Instagram, the students surveyed mostly use the site to look at pictures.” Frost said. “Also, there is not a difference between preference for social media platform between females and males, both prefer Instagram the most.”

While the sample size was small, Frost’s study is an interesting insight on Instagram use among students on our campus. As the most accessed social media platform, it clearly has substantial power over USD student users.

Although O’Neill posted a video declaring her war on social media, some scholars, fellow Insta-celebs, and Toreros are questioning the authenticity of O’Neill’s movement.

Singer-songwriter twins, Rina and Nanda Nelson, who met O’Neill online, posted a video about the controversy. They claimed that O’Neill’s campaign was a hoax and a cry for more attention. Although it is unclear whether their criticisms are merited, it brings up an important issue: is O’Neill’s use of social media for her campaign against social media ironic?

Senior Chloe Spilotro is studying marketing and communication studies and has considered the irony of her movement.

“As a marketing major, social media is a big part of my life, and I’ve read some conspiracy theories about her campaign,” Spilotro said. “Even though her movement is rejecting the social media standard, it’s actually drawn more attention to her.”

Setting aside the complicated possible irony of her campaign medium, the impact of social media on millennials is clear. Social media plays a huge role in all of our lives as college students at USD.

Spilotro explained that she believes that social media is safe to use when the medium is not exploited to O’Neill’s extent.

“As far as us using social media, as long as you aren’t doing one-tenth of what O’Neill is doing on social media, you’re doing alright,” Spilotro said.

While O’Neill’s approach may be a bit drastic, her story inspired Frost to rethink her social media usage.

“It is fine to have [social media accounts],” Frost said. “They have become such a huge part of our life, so it is important to sit back and check how much you are using it. It’s just important to keep it in check.”

O’Neill’s story provides powerful insight on how deeply ingrained social media is in millennial lives. It plays such a critical role in falsely shaping our sense of self and world view. We can’t be naive and completely escape social media in our globalized environment that evolves around emergent new technology, but we can be mindful and make some changes.

Personally, I give her props for her attack on the unrealistic Instagram standard. Her campaign website does not include photos or captions attempting to attract likes and attention.

Hopefully, her website and overall campaign promotes fellow social media celebrities with millions of followers to follow in her footsteps and encourage a change in current trends. While most USD students aren’t Insta-celebrities in our online lives, we should still examine our social media footprint and its effect on our daily lives.