Opinion: Social Media Lacks Authenticity in a World of Social Validation

By Kellie Dietrich
Features Editor

This article was originally published in Issue 6, Fiftieth Year of The Minstrel (November 19, 2015). Click here to view the entire issue.

“Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real. It’s contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views and success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated self- absorbed judgment.”

This quote is from Essena O’Neill’s last post on Instagram from Oct. 27. She says what we are all thinking and know to be true, but we are ultimately too afraid to admit. O’Neill is a typical nineteen-year-old girl from Australia, who also happens to be an “Instagram celebrity” with over half a million followers since she started the account at the age of twelve.

O’Neil decided to leave the so called “dream” behind by deleting thousands of pictures and changing her account name to “Social Media Is Not Real Life.” For the remaining photos, her captions were changed to show the lengths that were taken to actually get the pictures to meet society’s high standards of what it means to be beautiful. O’Neill looks effortless and confident in all her pictures, but looks can be deceiving of course.

Photo courtesy of Instagram/Essena O’Neil.
Photo courtesy of Instagram/Essena O’Neill.

One of O’Neill’s pictures, where she is wearing a bikini on the beach, is now captioned “NOT REAL LIFE- took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have not eaten all day. Would have yelled at my sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this. Yep so totally #goals.”

We need to stop judging people by numbers, most specifically ourselves. Is that girl really more beautiful than you because she has a hundred more likes? Is that guy actually more successful than you because he has more followers? And speaking of numbers, how many apps and filters were used in the editing process? And how many times did you think to yourself, “what if no one likes this?” or “is this worthy to post?”

O’Neill never intended to become famous on Instagram, but once she achieved a high number of followers, she quickly became obsessed with getting more and more. By receiving so much social fame, O’Neill was paid by companies to endorse their clothing. She gained money, but gave up an even larger cost: her self-esteem. Another picture of O’Neill in workout gear has the new caption “the only thing that made me feel good that day was this photo.”

This is an extremely dangerous mindset that O’Neill had. We see highlight reels of people’s lives thinking that everyone is out with friends and having literally the best time. Every post has to top the last one. But outside the picture, is reality. We actually aren’t that tan and our eyes aren’t that bright; that’s from editing and filters. Behind the fake laughs and posed shots, we are struggling with real world issues. We cry, we yell, we have bad days. We receive constant pressure to participate in social media, capture every fun thing we do into a tweet or picture and portray our ideal self, not our real self.

Another Instagram account that has been put to an end is “SocalityBarbie” with over 1.3 million followers. Darby Cisneros took photographs of a brunette hipster Barbie doll to mock Instagram trends and cliché hashtags. She was tired of everyone having the same pictures in the same places with the same captions. “What better way to make my point than with a mass-produced doll?” Cisneros asked in an interview with “Wired.”

After over a year of fame, Cisneros has revealed herself as the creator of the parody and says Socality Barbie’s work is done. Important issues were called into question, such as how people present themselves online, the crazy lengths they go to for the perfect picture and authenticity. Hopefully with accounts like “SocalityBarbie” and “Social Media Is Not Real Life,” people will be more aware of how ridiculous social media can be.

Some may argue social media connects you to thousands of people, but it’s not a genuine connection. Social media doesn’t connect people together. If you really wanted to stay in touch with someone, you would make an effort in person or through genuine phone calls. Liking someone’s post and favoriting a tweet doesn’t count as staying in touch. So let’s try having real quality time with someone and not be concerned about capturing the moment forever because let’s be honest, you don’t need a picture of the pumpkin patch every year you go.

I say this to all of you as a user of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat who is also affected by social approval just like O’Neill was. However, I realize that the photo and the person are different behind the Instagram filter. I hope our society starts to realize there are more important things in life than who’s doing what on social media.

I find it highly unlikely that Instagram will die out anytime soon, but think of a life with social media that didn’t go by numbers and ruin people’s self-esteem. O’Neill had similar thoughts, and because there is no site like this yet, she created a personal website Letsbegamechangers.com. She has blogs and videos about the reality behind her pictures and the truth behind how Instagram users are paid along with focusing on environmental issues, gender equality and inspirational Ted Talks of whom she considers game changers.

I leave you with another of O’Neill’s improved Instagram captions: “Happiness based on aesthetics will suffocate your potential here on earth.” Now go out and live your life authentically, instead of hashtagging it.

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