Social Media: Weapon Or Tool?

Ultimately, its the user who decides.

Warning: video contains few instances of profanity.

YouTuber and Instagram model Essena O’Neill recently quit social media in an attempt to make a statement and “reveal the truths behind social media”—and though she went on to get featured by several major media outlets including ABC News, Buzzfeed, and Good Morning America for the blunder, her ‘message’ shouldn’t really be news to anyone.

To provide a little background, O’Neill was an internet personality, known for sharing thoughts on social media about positivity, veganism, and taking control of one’s life. She also posted modeling photos to help promote her message, which was, at the time, the aforementioned. O’Neill quit university as well, in order to make a living off of social media.

In her “last video on YouTube” O’Neill makes several controversial statements, claiming that social media is fake, provides unrealistic expectations, and impresses a corrupt rating system with likes and followers.

In this video, not only did O’Neill spend 17 minutes demonizing social media as a whole for personal reasons, but, ever so ironically at the end of the video, asked the followers she gained on social media to kindly send her rent money. But that isn’t the most hypocritical part. In that prodigious tantrum, O’Neill didn’t really quit social media. She just switched to a different form of social media—a blog, named “let’s be game changers.”

The whole message here is “let’s all be game changers by quitting social media”, but the reality is, many, including her past self, became a game changer through social media. In fact, social networks were, and still are, her way of spreading influence. In today’s day and age, social media is a powerful tool to raise awareness of global issues among and communicate with the youth population. And though not all social media users use it for good, not all social media users are inherently fake or attention-seeking.

Perhaps the most crooked part about this whole ‘movement’ is the validation of an invalid problem. The whole issue O’Neill has with social media is that it is superficial and corrupting today’s youth. And though it has the potential to do so, that’s simply not true for most of its users. That ‘ugly reality behind social media’ is O’Neill’s own ugly reality. Essena not only generalized her personal problems with social networks on the entirety of the youth population, but she projected them as a universal problem to non-users.

O’Neill then goes on to whine about what an issue it was that everything she did on social media had the sole motivation to gain more likes and followers. This ‘point’ is undoubtedly confusing, considering that as a person who made a living off of social media, trying to gain more followers was precisely her job.

Essentially, Essena tossed away a massive audience she could have spread a valuable message to, because posting a few pictures a day with the motive to “get more value” was too stressful for her.

In the grand scheme of things, how a few people use social media is not a problem. World hunger and poverty are problems. Ongoing wars and mass exoduses are a problem. The slaughter of hundreds of children in other countries is a problem.

Stories like O’Neill’s only serve to teach America’s youth that whining about minor issues on social networks is okay—it’s blind sighting the population with a diluted and narrow perspective of the world. Stories like these don’t deserve headlines.

Furthermore, painting people like O’Neill as revolutionaries and “game changers” (though the title was originally self-proclaimed) is simply false.

Malala Yousafzai, at age 18 (the same age as O’Neill), is a Nobel Prize winner, an activist for female rights and education, and has delivered speeches at the UN and all around the world. She is a game changer. Gary Yourofsky is an animal rights activist who has alone reached over 65,000 people and delivered 2500+ anti-speciesism speeches around the US. He is a revolutionary.

A privileged teenager like O’Neill deleting her Instagram app and making a fuss of it is neither of the two.

In the end, social media is what the user makes of it. The platform social media has provided holds just as much potential to become a vehicle for social and global progression as it does a selfie album. Social media is a tool, and how it is used is reflective of its users.

Blaming social media for its ‘fake’ content is just as logical as condemning a pencil for a seditious speech. Social media itself is not fake—some social media users (including O’Neill herself in this case) are “fake.” Put out authenticity, and social media will be authentic- and vice versa.