Essena O’Neil is one of those social media young stars that succeeded in our daily media landscape. Earlier this month, her Instagram account was followed by more than 700.000 people just being removed by herself couple of days later. The Internet was under shock. She was ‘revealing’ that the content that she was spreading was mostly fake, manipulated or bought by brands. Really, that’s big news…Who was really believing that?
Essena can’t really seem to win. Since she shattered social perceptions by revealing the truth behind her life, the Instagram model has been ambushed by accusations over her authenticity. As a result, all her social media sites have been shut down, and her online presence has been significantly diminished. Was the whole thing really just a big hoax? Is she just trying to boost support for her new business venture? Suspicion is all around. She decided to launch her own asset, focusing on promoting “veganism, plant-based nutrition, environmental awareness, social issues, gender equality, (and) controversial art”. Depending on how it all pans out, she may just be swapping one form of aspirational self-promotion for another. Fair enough, everybody has to make a living after all.
But, whatever is the story behind; something remains the same before and after this viral identity crisis. Images have a powerful signification and it’s important to be extremely careful. A lot of her pictures stayed online but she changed the captions, explaining the real context of each of them, explaining the ‘behind the scenes’. It was changing totally their meaning. And we can understand deeper our relation with social media content. ‘Authenticity’ is ‘the key to a real tweet’ was saying Dick Costolo, CEO of Twitter in 2013. Well, we just observed a star from Internet changing totally the signification of her content; she confessed all terrible efforts of preparation, freaking control and care in the use of the fiction she wanted us to believe. She is describing how those pictures were done, describing painful moments with her sister until she gets the right picture, or the fact that the cocktail dress she wears was just for few minutes to snap this particular moment – she is now claiming an authenticity that goes the opposite of the leverage she used for many years. And what it says is not reassuring much.
Only few words can change the meaning of a visual. If we take these examples, the pictures can explain the beauty of the person but also the proofs of painful efforts she deployed to satisfy herself and her need for celebrity. Pictures can be manipulated to make you go to one direction or to make you think in the opposite way. And this is just the issue with so-called ‘spontaneous’ social media like Instagram. Manipulation is everywhere and can generate harmful reactions for the viewers. Do we have to believe it all? Of course not. And it’s proven that people getting addicted to Facebook are losing faith in themselves and their level of happiness drops dramatically. But we are slaves of images; we are dictated by ‘easy-to-consume’ slices of life, we want to believe. We have to be careful about visuals, pictures and their meaning. But, at the end of the day, we have to be careful about the intentions of the people behind. Never forget that Essena gained 50.000 more followers since she claimed for authenticity. Mesmerizing.