Social media has given 18-year-old Essena O'Neill a massive platform. She amassed nearly 800,000 followers on Instagram and another 270,000 on YouTube and even earned a modeling contract with one of the biggest agencies in Australia.
But now, she's leaving all that behind.
In a tearful video on her YouTube page, O'Neill renounced social media and went on a tirade about how harmful the need for followers and likes is to young people, especially women. "I let myself be defined by numbers," she said. "You'd think getting 100,000 followers on Instagram would be amazing. It was, for the day, but then you'd want 200,000."
In the video, which quickly went viral and has over 1.5 million views since it was posted yesterday, O'Neill shut down her Snapchat and Tumblr accounts. She said she will keep her YouTube and Instagram profiles but won't post anything new.
O'Neill deleted more than 2,000 photos from her Instagram and edited the captions on remaining photos to spread the truth about the images. One of the re-edited captions explains how she was paid $400 to post a photo of her wearing a dress:
Was paid $400 to post a dress. That's when I had maybe 150k followers, with half a million followers, I know of many online brands (with big budgets) that pay up to $2000 per post. Nothing is wrong with accepting brand deals. I just think it should be known. This photo had no substance, it was not of ethical manufacturing (I was uneducated at the time). SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT REAL is my point. Be aware what people promote, ask yourself, what's their intention behind the photo?
O'Neill has since started up a new venture, Let's Be Game Changers, aiming to promote veganism and positive messages. However, since she got much of her income from social platforms, she said she'll have a hard time supporting herself. So she's hoping people will donate to her cause.
"I'd rather you support what I'm doing by you paying what you think it's worth to you," she said. "It's like that's embarrassing or wrong. But promoting endless products or getting cheap views on YouTube or being a 'model' that's using my looks for money … that's OK?"
UPDATE: As you can see by the unavailable social media posts above, as of Nov. 4 O'Neill deleted her Instagram and YouTube accounts.