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Essena O’Neill and the Show Business of Social Media

Coming of age in show business, social media, and mental health.

Cover photo: @jerrysilfwer


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:

  • Is this a social media prob­lem? Or is this a par­ent­ing problem?

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: 

  • Parents are respons­ible for their chil­dren becom­ing young entre­pren­eurs and going into show busi­ness simultaneously.

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:

Signature - Jerry Silfwer - Doctor Spin

Thanks for read­ing. Please sup­port my blog by shar­ing art­icles with oth­er com­mu­nic­a­tions and mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sion­als. You might also con­sider my PR ser­vices or speak­ing engage­ments.

Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer
Jerry Silfwer, alias Doctor Spin, is an awarded senior adviser specialising in public relations and digital strategy. Currently CEO at Spin Factory and KIX Communication Index. Before that, he worked at Kaufmann, Whispr Group, Springtime PR, and Spotlight PR. Based in Stockholm, Sweden.

The Cover Photo

The cover photo isn't related to public relations; it's just a photo of mine. Think of it as a 'decorative diversion', a subtle reminder that there is more to life than strategic communication.

The cover photo has



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