YouTube Vlogger Essena O’Neill Exposes Dark Side of Social Media Fame

By Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.
November 3, 2015 Updated: November 4, 2015

A popular teenage YouTube star released an emotional video exposing the dark side of social media fame, while announcing she’s decided to quit the industry.

Essena O’Neill of Australia, 19, has over 800,000 followers on Instagram and another 271,000 fans on YouTube. She says she’s made thousands of dollars from the two social media websites.

But O’Neill said in the video that most of her posts were carefully crafted, and often paid for by advertisers–leaving her feeling “miserable.” 

“I quit social media because of my 12-year-old self. I want everyone to know that. At 12 years old I was miserable because of the numbers I saw on a screen and at 18… I was miserable as well, even when I had it all,” O’Neill said in her 17-minute video. 

“I met people that are far more successful online than I am, and they are just as miserable and lonely and scared and lost. We all are,” she added in the video, which is titled, “Why I REALLY am quitting social media | The Truth.”

 “I feel like at 12 I thought I was nothing, and here – at nearly 19 – with all of these followers I don’t even know what is real and what is not because I have let myself be defined by something that is so not real.”

The video came after O’Neill deleted roughly 2,000 images from her Instagram. Her remaining photographs have been edited, with the captions representing her updated viewpoints. 

For instance, in a combined picture showing two views of O’Neill in a dress, she wrote: “NOT REAL LIFE – I didn’t pay for the dress, took countless photos trying to look hot for Instagram, the formal made me feel incredibly alone.”

And in one of her bikini pictures, she urged girls “to know this isn’t candid life, or cool or inspirational,” noting that her stomach was sucked in and her breasts were pushed-up. 

In another caption, she said she was paid $400 to wear a certain dress, and she noted that many online brands pay up to $2,000 per post.

“Social media, especially how I used it, isn’t real. It’s contrived images and edited clips ranked against each other. It’s a system based on social approval, likes, validation in views, success in followers. It’s perfectly orchestrated self absorbed judgement,” she posted announcing her decision,” O’Neill added. 

Many of her followers were sharing her edited images, telling friends to read them. Others told O’Neill they appreciated her new mindset.

“You truly are an inspiring woman now, you’ve shown us it’s never too late to change your way of thinking and bring out your positives,” one fan said.

The edited images contain a link to a new website,, which appears to have crashed due to the stream of traffic.

Zachary Stieber
Zachary Stieber covers U.S. and world news. He is based in Maryland.