Instagram superstar Essena O’Neill rage-quitted social media in tears.
Many teenagers and young adults seem to buckle under the immense pressure of online fame.
As a professional PR advisor, I feel obliged to ask this tough and uncomfortable question:
Let’s get into it:
How Essena O’Neill Rage-Quitted Social Media
Australian Instagram model and influencer Essena O’Neill quit social media in a long, emotional YouTube video.
While listening to O’Neill’s testimonial, I felt for her. She describes how she was drawn into a world of superficial acknowledgement and exploitation — where she now battles depression and anxiety.
Let’s be clear: The part of social media that O’Neill describes is show business. And for over a century, it’s been common knowledge that this industry is particularly ruthless.
Navigating the treacherous waters of online fame can take a toll on young minds, leaving us questioning if we’ve inadvertently thrown them to the digital wolves of show business without much consideration.”
Youth, Social Media, and Show Business: An Explosive Combination
Show business has many facets, and we share a collective fascination for celebrities. Some artists become celebrated writers, musicians, painters, actors, comedians, etc. Others go on to become artists of less notoriety. Most end up somewhere in between.
Social media is no different. As such a vast space, it’s home to all kinds of media. You could spend your entire online life deeply immersed in online chess, funny cat videos, or astrophysics.
Social media networks and their algorithms are responsible for creating risky online environments. And we should strive to make online spaces safer for children and teenagers. But as parents, we can’t just wait for that to happen.
If a young person wishes to enter into the world of online show business, parents must begin to understand what this means. Raising a social media influencer means exposing your child or teenager to grown-up business life.
When Your Kid Has a Bigger Audience Than Your Local Newspaper
Wherever people direct their attention, there are business opportunities. And so, it only falls naturally for social media to host the show business industry.
If my son, born in 2014, came to me wanting to start a business, being a business owner myself, I’d be proud. But I’d also be careful: managing customers and money, staying on top of tax law and other regulations, exposing your brand to the general public — none of that is without risk.
Even if you’re not selling anything initially, you’re still part of the business industry as a social media creator. Managing an audience’s attention can be emotionally taxing for any creator; anxiety and depression are everyday struggles for many public creatives.
Was Essena O’Neill not mentally prepared to enter the world of entrepreneurship and online show business simultaneously? If she had known exactly what she was getting herself into, would she still have embarked on a career as an Instagram model?
If my son came to me wanting to seek the path of show business, I would be terrified. Many young talents end up struggling with severe mental health problems.
The Popularity Contest: Coming of Age in Social Media
Being a teenager has never been easy. While society has improved exponentially regarding human rights and material wealth in the last century, being a teenager and coming of age means that you’re socially looking for your place in the world today.
Even grown-ups sometimes feel pressured to put on a show on social media — even if it’s just for friends, family, and acquaintances. Feet on a beach, the tip of an aeroplane’s wing, well-composed daily outfits, gym selfies begging for approval.
Now, imagine coming of age in the world of social media. A teenager’s social “catwalk” used to be confined geographically, but today that constraint is long gone. That stage has not only become global, but it’s also been monetised.
The high-school popularity contest has suddenly become a world stage. And peer pressure operates at the speed of light (literally!) across the globe.
Social Media Stardom Is a True Challenge for Today’s Parents
I appreciate how difficult the situation is for parents of social media influencers. Things have happened fast, and we’re the first generation of parents ever to deal with our children entering the world of online show business.
But the harsh truth remains:
The responsibility to keep up with the times falls hard on the parents. Whether their children’s businesses are online or offline is beside the point.
2019 update: A few years after her big announcement, Essena O’Neil is returning to social media. For context in case you were wondering what became of O’Neill, here’s a candid interview with her: