The Digital Matrix Versus The Real World

Australian teen model Essena O’Neill recently quit Social Media amid a cloud of controversy. Why is this headline news?

Upon her brief return to her digital platforms, the 19-year-old model deleted some 2,000 posts and re-edited the description of the majority of her remaining pictures. O’Neill claimed that Social Media is not "real life,” and attempted to expose the industry as a money-driven world where the largest accounts are paid thousands of dollars per post. 

“Yet I, myself, was consumed by it. This was the reason why I quit social media: for me, personally, it consumed me. I wasn’t living in a 3D world,” O'Neill stated.

Paying influential accounts for featured posts might be news to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram users, but this is hardly surprising to social media managers. Personally, I have worked with accounts on both sides as the one who has provided products for influential gains as well as a manager who scheduled posts for a fee.

While I admire O’Neill’s public stance that she portrayed a false life because she was paid to model clothes, this crisis of conscience could have been avoided.

Rise9 CEO Zack James, a fellow social media influencer, had some especially harsh things to say about O’Neill’s dismissal of social media. “'Social media can be whatever the user desires it to be… Allowing yourself to become pressured into a false life that you're uncomfortable with is the result of your own actions and intent.”

O’Neill admitted that she became addicted to social media to receive validation and admiration, and her celebrity status grew as a result of her influencer role. Personally, I hadn’t heard of her until her dismissal of the digital networking world that provided her initial attention.

There’s a slang term called, “Instagram Model" which sums up the lack of authenticity for these influential users. O’Neill is hardly the first Instagram Model to be paid for endorsing products. Since she has reneged on her promise to promote these products, should she return the money she received?

Zach James, CEO of digital marketing company Rise9, is one of many outspoken critics of O’Neill.

Zach James, CEO of digital marketing company Rise9, is one of many outspoken critics of O’Neill.

I have worked on accounts which have been paid for running sponsored tweets. Twitter users should be able to see a difference between an ad but sometimes it is a fine line. Responsible celebrities or influencer accounts could take Truth In Advertising a step further by acknowledging their promotional messages with the use of #ad, #spon, or #SponsoredMessage.

Is it dishonest for celebrities to run sponsored tweets? I don’t believe so, especially when their digital reach can be valued. Not every company can afford to run national advertisements, paying hundreds of thousands on the production of television commercials. Sponsored tweets can drive attention to the heart of a celebrity's’ follower base, allowing a brand to reach a highly specific group of people.

The companies that paid O’Neill used the Influencer Marketing concept to showcase their products. It’s not against the law, and instead of the model editing all captions of her remaining Instagram photos to draw attention to this trend, she perhaps could have just added a simple hashtag #promo.

Essena O’Neill brings attention to the fact that Influencer Marketing can be a lie. I support her decision to change her social media messages to something more authentic. She now has an obligation to follow through on her plans (to discontinue social media, to develop her blog… to reinvent social media!). She has appropriately named her new blog, “Let’s Be Game Changers."

You have one or more Social Media accounts, let me ask you a question: Would you post a bad photo of yourself? Do you only post positive updates to your LinkedIn profile? Have you ever used a filter on your Instagram post? If you’re a member of a dating site do you attempt to promote yourself as an attractive match?

Lebron James, the King of Sports Social Media, has an estimated value of $140K per sponsored tweet.

Lebron James, the King of Sports Social Media, has an estimated value of $140K per sponsored tweet.

I hate to break it to you, the digital world is like the Matrix. It looks real, but it’s not real nor is it perfect. Why would a user purposely not portray themselves in the best possible light? 

No one is perfect. Models will pose for hundreds of photos until they have the right pose that will generate thousands of likes. Just know that while you’re not perfect, neither are Instagram Models.