Essena O’Neill, Social Media and Authenticity

It seems like everybody who works in communications is talking about Essena O’Neill at the moment; how she exposed the truth behind the photos she posted on Instagram, sharing what it took to get the perfect photo and how much she was paid for promoting certain products. She claims that social media is fake, and we’re all just seeking validation. essena

While many studies exist showing the negative effects of social media on self-esteem, most of the backlash against Essena has focused on three things: the fact that she’s still online and asking for money, that she’s manipulating information, and that there are many positives to social media.

I have a group of friends who I’ve known for ten years (we all met in 2005). One of them has made me and my partner godmothers to her son; another is planning to sign as a witness on my marriage certificate. Three of them live in my old hometown, and the first thing I do when I book a flight is send them a group text so we can arrange a girls’ night out. They’re my cheerleaders, my confidantes, people who I love dearly and who will drop everything just to call me on a bad day.

I met all of them online, because we joined the same private, niche interest social network.

Imagine if you were the only kid in your town who loved comic books. Imagine if you were the only person you knew with severe anxiety or depression. Imagine being transgender in the middle of the most conservative, religious city in your state. Imagine if everyone in your family just switched off when you started talking about your favorite book (again).

Maybe mass social networks are all about validation and popularity, but niche social networks are all about community. Technology isn’t inherently bad in itself; it’s how we use it.

There are several products which have been developed to try and create a more authentic social experience online. Casey Neistat created Beme, a video sharing app where you press to your chest to record, and the second you’re done, your video is uploaded (no opportunities for editing or withholding the information). Once the video has been watched, it’s gone. You can watch Neistat’s introduction to Beme below.

And of course, there’s PeepSo. Essentially, when you remove the mass market from the social networking experience, you remove the need to perform. When people join private, niche communities with a specific focus, there are no “celebrities”, there is nobody you have to impress. You’re simply there to connect with others, to have a shared experience.

The best thing Essena has done here is crack the door wide open, so we can start to have a real, informed conversation about what social media is, how it works, why we use it. We’re excited to be part of that conversation, and would love to hear your thoughts.

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