The Social-Media Teen (and Up) Celebrity World Is at War Over Essena O’Neill

By
Image

Like the mob, the world of teenage stars on YouTube and Instagram doesn’t take kindly to informants and turncoats. So when Australian Instagram celebrity Essena O’Neill announced that she was quitting Instagram over the pressure of keeping up her idealized Instagram account — which she went through and edited earlier this week with new captions indicating the labor and cost that went into every shot — she suddenly found herself the target of a set of videos from former friends. Welcome to teen-social-media-celebrity hell.

Essena has not exactly dropped off the face of the planet since she quit social media. In a Vimeo video yesterday (her third in as many days), O’Neill told viewers that she’s “never been happier than this moment” with tears streaming down her face. “I was scared that no one wants to hear the truth, everyone’s going to think I’m an attention seeker.” 

Not everyone did. But twin YouTube musicians — and former friends of Essena — Nina and Randa certainly do. Nina and Randa posted a video today claiming that Essena’s meltdown is due to a breakup with a guy she met through them while staying at their house in Los Angeles. “Essena wasn’t in Los Angeles working, she was on vacation,” they say. “Who is she talking about, being all miserable? How were any of us fake to you?”

Not one to stay on the sidelines when there are video views to be snagged, Nina and Randa’s brother Willie posted his own version of Essena’s exit. “Are there some people who are fake here?” he says. “Absolutely. There are fake people all over the world.” 

O’Neill, for her part, weighed back in, again on Vimeo. “Looks like media want attention and a ‘hot story’, not real change. AM I THE ONLY ONE OVER THIS???” she wonders. No, Essena! Not at all!

You might think these thought-provoking video lectures on the peculiar ontology of social media would be all the world could bear. You’d be wrong! British YouTuber Acacia Brinley has likewise responded with a taped, off-the-cuff essay. “This is what happens when you mix social media and creating a brand with your own life and your own personality. It’s hard to put yourself out there as a brand,” she says. “You’re getting mixed up between modeling world and social media world.” 

O’Neill’s emotions are genuine, and her critiques clearly hit a nerve (and an attention/engagement jackpot from which many people can benefit). But she’s not exactly gone from the internet. A colleague in the vegan community — you read that right — plvntstrong, made another Essena critique video, saying, “She deleted a bunch of YouTube videos but she’s creating a website so she’s not really leaving social media, she’s just switching her platform.” 

Ah, yes: O’Neill appears to have actually left Instagram for good, taking down her account, but those who miss her (and aren’t satiated by her Vimeo videos) will be glad to remember that her departure accompanied the launch of her new site, Let’s Be Game Changers, which features “Game Changing Stuff” (including Amanda Palmer TED Talk videos), “Behind the Image” (essays about her Instagram photos), and a forum. “She’s still using social media to further her (amazing) agenda,” fashion blogger bryanboy posted on Instagram. Oddly, a section devoted to “cool products” appears to have been removed since yesterday.

Update: Jezebel has a scoop: Nina and Randa are 22. Twenty-two! We therefore are defining “teen” in the phrase “Social-Media Teen Celebrity World” to include anyone under 23.