Essena “I Quit Social Media” O’Neill

Would you quit social media cold turkey? This past week, 18-year-old, Australian, Essena O’Neill did just that.

Over the past 4 years, Essena (Eh-seen-ah) O’Neill developed a huge follower base “with 570,00+ followers on Instagram, 250,000+ subscribes on YouTube, 250,000+ on Tumblr and 60,000+ average views on Snapchat.” She’s been asked to market products over her pages, sometimes getting paid for such promotion. At a mere 16, she posted countless bikini clad photos as well as done-up selfies. She got thousands of likes and comments on her posts from adoring fans.

About a week ago on October 27th, O’Neill deleted over 2000 pictures from her Instagram and began her journey to quitting social media. O’Neill edited captions to show the “truths” behind some of her Instas and deleted her Snapchat and Tumblr accounts. She then kept what was left on her revamped Instagram and Youtube pages as proof of her social media cleanse (both of which were deleted yesterday) and created a Vimeo account as well as a new website – Let’s Be Game Changers.

So what prompted such drastic actions? O’Neill found herself disgusted by her obsession with social media and her motivations to post on these platforms. On her website, O’Neill describes how she found herself engulfed by social media – how many likes she got, how many followers she had, etc. She constantly sought social approval. She created an image of herself that didn’t actually reflect reality. She would spend countless hours getting the perfect shot to upload in order to get X amount of likes for validation of her fame. In one of her old YouTube videos, O’Neill describes her old routines. Every morning, she’d check Instagram to see how her photos were doing with likes, then proceeded to check her other social media pages – Tumblr, Snapchat, YouTube, and Facebook. When doing photo-shoots, it would sometimes take half an hour to over an hour for her to get what she hoped to be the perfect shot. Sometimes, these photo-shoots weren’t even for brands or companies sponsoring her. Instead, they were just photos to post to get more validation.

The irony of it all is that O’Neill is getting a lot of feedback for her actions via social media. She insists that the only platforms she’ll be using are her website and Vimeo. On Tuesday, November 3rd, O’Neill deleted both her Instagram and Youtube accounts (which proved to be a nuisance to me since I was trying to get content for this post). From now on, O’Neill wants to promote:

  • Being present: I’m trying to learn how to be fully present in order to be able to take in each moment wholeheartedly and to fully appreciate everything this life has to offer.

  • Our Home: Anything to do with nature and this planet; environmental preservation, awareness, exploration, appreciation.

  • Veganism: The connection to all life forms on earth. Showing kindness and respect to all animals, the environment and each other.

  • Real Health: Mental health, physical health and of course spiritual health. My definition of real health is if you feel good, you effortlessly spread good.

  • Unity: A world free from discrimination, shame, ridicule and blame. A world of compassion, support, togetherness and oneness for everyone.

  • Self Expression: The ability to express your own thoughts, concerns, ideas freely in order to personally grow, learn and additionally inspire other’s to do the same.

  • Love and connection: Feeling love from within, feeling it in all relationships, spreading love and the aspiration to work together in the beauty of connection.

Looking back, it’s great that Essena O’Neill went through this cleanse for the betterment of herself. However, how much do we really care? It’s safe to say that her experience with social media is not far off from many of ours.

Think about it. What’s the first thing you check when you wake up? Facebook, Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram, Tumblr? How often do you refresh your pictures to see if you’ve gotten more likes? Do you ever look at a picture or a tweet and think – “Ha, this is gonna get me a ton of favorites/likes,”?

What’s the big deal with Essena O’Neill? Any teenager or young adult can give up social media and start promoting veganism. However, at the end of the day, this brings us back to a larger question that not only relates to O’Neill’s blow up, but also to social media in general: why do we care? 

It’s easy to scoff at someone as Instafamous as O’Neill and say that anyone can delete their account, but for many, it’s not that easy to follow through with their actions.


  1. I really like your post! Is amazing how this story has been so big in the past week, and as you said it is just a girl deleting her social media accounts. But when you read the story or see the video that you posted, you can see how real she is, and the struggles she being through from creating this “persona”. I really like how she changed the captions of her instagram photos, and decided to say the truth about each photo. And I feel this is an important issue that young girls go through. They follow this instafamous people that have beautiful pictures and they start feeling insecure about their looks, but what they don’t know is that behind that photo, there were a hundred previous photos that were deleted because they weren’t good enough, or that they are using a lot of makeup or even apps that would change their looks.
    I feel this message is really powerful and young girls should learn the important lesson here. I really like social media, because for me is a way of communicating who I am and to know what my friends are doing and feel close to them, but when you cross the line of being obsess or base your life worth on the amount of likes or followers, that is when reality fades.

  2. Great post! I feel like many people are also in Essena’s same position. I feel as though many individuals use social media for validation to different extents. I wonder what made her finally look at everything from an outsider perspective and realize that this wasn’t a healthy way to live. I wonder what actually made her realize that she wanted to change and I wonder how hard it was for her to quit cold turkey. It sounds so stupid but it really it is an everyday habit that become apart of who you are. I know that my social media usage is no where near Essena’s and I would still have a difficult time trying to cut it out of my life “cold turkey.” This reminds me of another blog post from this week of one of our classmates who decided to delete her snapchat–much like Essena, to experience “living in the present.” Nice job!

  3. Its amazing how this story has spread in the last 24 hours and I’m impressed you jumped on this story as an opportunity to spread Essena’s message. As you mentioned, I thought it was especially impactful how she edited all her Instagram photos to tell her real message. This is so important for impressionable girls to see what actually goes into these images. I also think her story reiterates how important it is for parents/guardians and even educational influencers have in monitoring social media use. We used to take Health classes in middle school that talked about the importance of being outside, activity instead of watching TV, and without a doubt addiction to social media should be a key issue for developing children. It will be interesting to see how her “lets be game changers” evolves. While its an admirable mission, social media is engrained in our societies and finding a healthy balance is key, and thats not necessarily going “cold turkey” on all platforms.

  4. I really enjoyed reading your post about Essena O’Neill and her social media purge. I just heard about this story this morning on the news and it is amazing how quickly the details are spreading over traditional media as well as social media platforms. I agree with @yanesval about how important this story is – not because it is some sixteen year old girl deleting her social media accounts, but because it is a young girl recognizing that there was something wrong with her constant obsession of needing to be perfect for her viewers/followers. She realized that she needed these platforms to feel good about herself and to reassure any insecurities she was having, and she understood that this was ultimately not healthy for her mental health or general well-being. So many young girls are plagued with this need to look pretty and perfect to elicit “likes” on social media, and if they don’t get the likes, it can completely change their mood/ruin their day. It makes me sad to know that beautiful young girls are not only plagued by these insecurities but how easy it is to obsess over this need for perfection by constantly looking at these insta-stars on social media. I agree with @lakyaks that Essena’s mission is admirable but not necessarily attainable in today’s social media infused world. Finding that balance between sharing photos/news with friends and family whilst not obsessing about what your followers think/like would be a great goal for Essena and other young girls – I just hope that more young girls realize the negative effects that social media obsession can and is already affecting their lives today.

  5. Great post! And bravo to the the girl who came to this realization at the young age of 18 (the age where most of our generation actually started to lose it). There’s a chance that she overreacted a little, but that’s understandable given her age and the fact that she was way more consumed than the average person and hence a worse “break-up” with social media. On that note, I think the portrayal of the companies, who wanting to capitalize on her followers by asking her to promote products, as evil corporations might be harsh. These are organizations based on maximizing profits and not social well-being of the planet (contrary to whatever a lot of them might say). The fact is corporations will try to capitalize anything that can enable them to reach mass audiences that will listen to their pitch. It doesn’t even have to be a person. Grumpy cat is neither a person nor real and is riding the promotion wave happily. Despite these things, I really commend her for going after better causes and being a voice to the very impressionable generation coming after her to be emotionally and physically healthy and not let your life on social media drive your real life. This would be the real benefit of her fame and social media.

  6. My new feeds unsocial media have been flooded with articles on O’Neill and I love that you wrote about this topic because it is something that is very prevalent in our digital inundated world. Recently I lost my phone as of a week ago and am still awaiting its replacement in the mail. Interestingly when I tell people about the tragic story of losing my phone, I am constantly asked “how are you surviving?” and “you must feel miserable right?”. To be honest the first few days I was completely frustrated, not because I missed being able to scroll through Instagram or Facebook on the go, but because I forgot about the basic necessities phones are relied on for. Calling my mom, texting friends to meet up, using the BC bus app to get to where I have to be, splitting Übers, checking my bank account. I felt immobile for the first couple of days. But similar to O’Neill, losing my phone and in extent accessibility to social media, I’ve felt a sense of relief as I’m not tempted to open such apps or be completely consumed by social media. I’ve felt refreshed and in a way some what hope my phone doesn’t make its way back too soon.

  7. This is an interesting and relevant topic. I think some people are already aware of the downsides of social media, but there are still others who aren’t aware of it yet, so this story may help people take a critical look at their own habits. This represents a trend toward more people having a skeptical view of technology and social media, particularly the focus on appearance it promotes. Part of the problem is that social media platforms and smartphones took off so quickly that people don’t know the proper etiquette or how to regulate their use of them. You make a great point that her criticism of social media is going viral on social media. In a blog post a few weeks ago, I talked about how social media can be used to start a discussion about its own shortcomings ( Without social media, some of these issues may be less prevalent, but we also would not be able to have discussions about societal problems at a large scale, which can help bring about real change.

  8. rebeccajin06 · ·

    I too heard about this story and absolutely loved it. Social media definitely has some of its perks but I absolutely think it allows people to portray their lives in a falsely positive manner. I did not know who Essena was prior to her story but was very familiar with social media accounts similar to hers that make you think this girl or guy has the “perfect” life…. emphasis on the quotation marks around perfect. The fact that she changed the captions of her photos to what they really should say was very enlightening. I personally am not a huge photo person but it’s hard not to want to get that perfect selfie or fall foliage picture when everyone else somehow seems to be doing it. Going on Instagram you see these great photos and you start to obsess over why your photos don’t look as great. In reality, Essena points out how ridiculous it is that we spend so much time obsessing over these photos (half of which are staged) just for the gratification of getting likes on social media. I think it took a lot of courage for Essena to quit social media and helped everyone hearing about her story to take a minute and reflect on how social media has affected them. Overall a great story and very glad to see that you made a blog post on it. Great job!

  9. Really good post! I think this is super similar to a recent blog post of mine about online/offline perceptions of individuals and how a lot of effort is sometimes spent to craft an ideal online persona. This post digs a bit deeper at how these discrepancies might not only be awkward but also could be potentially harmful to very impressionable followers on social media. I’m sure it’s very hard to have such an online stage such as having a large following on Instagram and not sway away from a positive message, but it’s definitely important to consider the authenticity and perspective that these online personas offer us.

  10. Like many have said, this story literally blew up overnight and took over everyone’s news feed. While I do think what Essena’s doing is admirable, I like how you brought up that by doing this social media “cleanse,” she is also getting a lot of attention, probably a lot more than any of her previous photos/videos did. I don’t think this is a stunt, but it’s crazy to see that we do care so much about this kind of stuff. There have been others who have quit cold turkey, but I think for someone who has become a micro celebrity on social media, it just automatically becomes a much bigger deal. I do like that instead of completely deleting her accounts, she is still using social media but to promote positive images and to uncover what it was like to be addicted to it.

  11. We’ll see how long she sticks with it. My experience is that most people who “quit” don’t for long.

  12. This post caught my attention because I was actually reading about this earlier when I was researching what I should tweet about for the week. She is not much different than the rest of us in that we are all constantly checking these platforms and often comparing ourselves to others. You are absolutely right in that they are the first things I view in the morning when I’m laying in bed. As a few people have mentioned, it will be interesting to see if she sticks with this plan in the long-run. As with anything else in life, social media usage is just about having balance. Sometimes taking a break from it all for even a few days can be refreshing, but it seems a bit extreme to cut it out completely.

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