Social media is what YOU make it: thoughts on Essena O’Neill

OPINION | Sabrina Peters
Thursday 12 November 2015

Queensland teenager Essena O’Neill made headlines by quitting social media. This is an excerpt of a blog by Queensland woman Sabrina Peters on the pitfalls and joys of the social media world. It is reproduced here, with permission.

Social media has been the talk of the town or, should I say, the hype of cyberspace. All thanks to 19-year-old Sunshine Coast local, Essena O’Neill, and her declaration to quit it! Now that may not seem like a big deal to you. But it is when you have over 600,000 Instagram followers and 200,000 on YouTube.esse1

You’ve probably read a bunch of blogs about her already, maybe you’ve even shared a few too (don’t worry, I have as well). This is not another blog picking sides and advocating whether she’s wrong or right. It’s simply exploring the question, “Is social media good or bad?”

Firstly, I think what Essena did took guts. That girl’s got game. She put herself out there and it could have backfired, badly. Not to mention the fact she did it with no make up on. That’s a big deal for a chick who’s spent her life creating an “online brand” and a flawless image. Could she have some hidden agenda going on? Maybe, though personally, I really don’t think so. Is every word she said 100 per cent accurate? Probably not. But does her message hold weight? Absolutely.

Despite her motives, the message is true

Social media can create a lot of pressure for people. (Key word: can). Particularly young people. (Key word: young).

I think young people are the most susceptible to the negative side effects of social media. They are vulnerable to peer pressure and insecurity, no surprise as they are only just beginning to forge their identities and starting to ask the questions: “who am I? And how do I fit into this world?” Add the weight of a daily fixation on the perfect body and being part of the coolest squad and you’ve got one giant popularity contest. We are creating a generation that is prone to constantly seeking social validation. That can be overwhelming.

Essena made these comments in a recent video, saying, “I have created an image of myself that I think others feel is unattainable, [that] others look at as a role model.esse2

“I get people saying every day on my Tumblr or on Instagram, ‘I wish I was you’.

“Lately, I’ve realised how horrible that is. For someone to follow my content and think ‘I wish I was you,’ that is the opposite of what I want to promote.

“I just want younger girls to know this isn’t candid life, or cool or inspirational. It’s contrived perfection made to get attention,” said Essena.esse3

Word. Young girls shouldn’t compare themselves to what they see on their screens, but they do. All the time. And that can lead to problems.

Social media can lead to feelings of inadequacy and insecurity

The amount of ‘flawless’ bodies, breasts and butts we are exposed to every day through various channels of social media is actually ridiculous. It’s hard not to compare yourself when you are constantly bombarded with everyone’s ‘filtered’ version of themselves. Unfortunately, teenage girls are the most vulnerable and often their social media obsession can lead to low self-esteem, anxiety and even depression. I think it really comes down to what you are looking at. Be deliberate about what you see.

Social media can distract us from people in our ‘real’ world

BUT social media isn’t all bad. It’s not all contrived and manufactured to make money, full of thigh gaps and product placements. Social media can be used for a lot of GOOD stuff! It’s all in how YOU and I choose to view it. Is it a tool to draw attention to ourselves, boosting our egos and building our ‘brands’? Or is it a tool to reach others? Bless others? Love others?

The person in front of my face deserves more attention than the ones online. But these are choices we make as individuals. You can go ahead and tell someone to forget about what people think, but it’s not that easy. Behaviour is learned, and unfortunately a lot of these thought patterns and actions are adopted from the culture we live in and the social cues we’re exposed too. Awareness comes first, then acknowledgement followed by change.

BUT social media isn’t all bad. It’s not all contrived and manufactured to make money, full of thigh gaps and product placements. Social media can be used for a lot of GOOD stuff! It’s all in how YOU and I choose to view it.

Is it a tool to draw attention to ourselves, boosting our egos and building our ‘brands’? Or is it a tool to reach others? Bless others? Love others?

Social media can raise awareness on important issues and spread positive messages

Social media has so many positive attributes. For me, that means talking about my faith. Jesus is the best thing that has ever happened in my life and this is just another way to share Him. Social media gives us the opportunity to reach people and places we never would have dreamed of 20 years ago (sorry gramps). The impact we can have on the world using social media is truly profound. What an incredible tool of communication we literally have at our fingertips. Maybe instead of making funny cat videos go ‘viral’, we could share things that really matter?

Social media can inform, encourage, empower, uplift and motivate in an instant

Words have power. They can either build up or tear down. I’ve lost count the amount of times I’ve had random people write to me on Facebook saying how much my blog has helped them. Some had never been to church before and now they go. Others were prodigals who thought there was no way back. Some were in the middle of a crisis; a marriage break-up, a self-harming episode, a relationship struggle and something I said gave them hope or guidance. Life or death is in our words. We can use social media to give a little life!

Social media can keep us connected

Yes, social media can make your relationships more shallow, but only if you let it. It can also provide a great space to talk, share and stay in each others worlds (even if it’s only a cyber one).

I don’t believe social media is good or bad. It’s totally what YOU make it. I choose GOOD. You can too. We all can.

Read the full blog, here.

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