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The Mass Media

The Mass Media

The Mass Media

Students Repond to Essena O’Neill and Social Media Superficiality

If your news feed looks anything like mine, then you would know Essena O’Neill. The Australian Instagram star has been actively calling out superficiality in social media with the catchphrase ‘Social Media Isn’t Real Life.’ It started with her re-captioning each of her Instagram photos. Workouts, detox smoothies, holiday snaps of exotic places – the classic, modern aesthetics that are inspiring for about eleven seconds.
For instance, one seemingly candid picture of a bikini-clad O’Neill was re-captioned: “NOT REAL LIFE – took over 100 in similar poses trying to make my stomach look good. Would have hardly eaten that day. Would have yelled at my little sister to keep taking them until I was somewhat proud of this. Yep so totally #goals.”
She had since started a movement against social media artificiality and has her own webpage, titled Let’s be Game Changers. On top of that, she quit Instagram, Facebook, and Youtube altogether, seeking out to spread her message “organically.” 
But most likely, you already know that. The question now is, how is this relevant to you and me?
I would diagnose my ten-year-old self with a Facebook obsession. I would send myself a contact request to increase my friend count. The pressure was always there to make a witty post, to have a ‘hot’profile picture, to convince others that “I have a life!” I never joined Instagram or Twitter because social media platforms that display ‘follower’ and ‘following’ counts intimidate me.
I reached out to random University of Massachusetts Boston students to see if I was alone in this. I was not.
Ava Akakia, a Taiwanese freshman who previously went to a Californian high school said, “In high school, there was a rule that your popularity is [paramount to] the number of likes you get on your posts. So naturally, the popular girls earned the most likes. When that does happen to me, it makes me feel like I am one of them, even though we don’t hang out.”
Morgan James, a junior studying Women and Gender Studies, conceded that, “Every[one] kind of has this online persona. You want people to see you a certain way and it’s not really you. I’m not gonna lie: when I post something, I want attention. You have this egotistical need, to be known and seen and heard.” 
It seems that none of us are immune to the constraints that we seem to expect of ourselves when exposed to social media. So when Essena O’Neill, a girl who embodies the #goals hashtag, took steps to counter these obsessions of ours, we cheered for her. Embraced her revolution. Called out “the brain-washed generation.” Many YouTubers, ‘Grammers, and other social media stars have shown solidarity and followed suit. Some have even gone so far to call her a hero. But alas, nothing is ever noteworthy if there isn’t any backlash. 
 “I don’t think the pictures I post on social media are fake,” one sophomore said.  When I look through my own pictures, I don’t see anything fake. I love posting pretty pictures. I love sharing what I eat, where I go, whom I’m with. I also love taking selfies, too. It makes me feel good about myself. That’s not fake,” said a freshman who wished to remain anonymous.
Another student piped up, “At first I thought it was really awesome and revolutionary, but my view changed after I saw theories about there being a publicity stunt. I remember thinking: “Oh. That would make a lot of sense.” Because now she has even more followers and she’s even more famous.” 
Most of the responses fall somewhere between the two extremes. For instance, an anonymous sophomore said that, “She’s being a little too melodramatic. Everyone knows that social media isn’t real life. People have the right to choose which information they want to share with the world. That’s nothing new.”
An MTV reporter argued that social media was never meant to be a “contract to forever be completely candid with a bunch of strangers on the Internet.” The article puts forth the argument that if we choose to post contrived images of ourselves, we have the right to do that. We have been manipulating photographs practically since the invention of the camera and we have other personas elsewhere, not just online. Social media has just given us a platform to expand these abilities.
Regardless, the vast majority of students seemed to agree that letting numbers define your personhood is ridiculous. Obsessively hungering for likes in a virtual world to validate your existence would not be ideal. 
“Social media can be used in a really constructive way, like some people use it for activism. But the way that we use it now is terrible,” said James.
Jalila Chebab, a Lebanese student majoring in Biology added: “[Our obsession with likes and followers] is a problem. If more people like Essena O’Neill opened up the way she did, the world would realize how Instagram is just advertising. They would realize, ‘Oh, I don’t need this many likes for people to actually like me. I don’t need to share half my life on Snapchat just so people don’t think I’m lame.’”