This past month, media outlets and social media networks around the world have been flooded by the messages of 19 year old Essena O’Neill, ex-Instagram and YouTube blogger who has created the initiative ‘social media is not real life’, to expose exactly how bloggers ‘lie’ on social media. Essena’s message has been supported by thousands of people around the globe, who agree with her message that our success should not be based around a system of ‘likes, followers, views and shares’. To highlight the culture of lies and deceit on social media, Essena has edited the captions on several of her promoted posts to reveal how ‘constructed’ her posts were and exactly how much she was paid to promote products.
Essena has strongly illustrated the culture of storytelling on social media, where posts are constructed to create a ‘quasi reality’. Yet, other social media influencers have hit back at Essena’s claims, highlighting that storytelling on social media does not have to always be deceitful or promoted, that choice is up to the individual themselves.
Kayla Itsines, spoke out on the issue. She outlined that although her posts do not tell the whole story, as certain aspects such as early morning wake ups or late nights working are not easily shown through social media, she will only promote products she believes in. Therefore, although promotion is part of her storytelling, it is not necessarily deceitful.
Essena has also neglected to touch on the positive storytelling that social media can communicate. Movements advocating positive body image, healthier lifestyles and individualism without any financial gain are all stories that have been told on Instagram without promotion and without deceit. Highlighting that not all aspects of social media illustrate a ‘fake reality’.
But the question still begs, do we need to be more transparent on social media?
Paid Instagram advertisements are currently clearly labelled as sponsored and have certain regulations in place. Yet, there is no regulation specifying that bloggers must reveal whether they have been paid to promote a product on the platform.This is true across many of the social networks.
This has allowed some brands to skew the perception of organic versus paid promotion, as an influencer may promote a product through social media that they have been paid to post about, without the audience knowing. However, although an influencer has been paid to promote a product, this in itself is not a deceitful act. Where the line is blurred is when an influencer chooses to both post about and advocate for a product they do not actually believe in. This is what Essena herself has admitted to doing.
Which leads us to ask:now that it is easier to share our stories, is it also becoming more culturally acceptable to lie about them?
Written by Sasha Hartley, The Works Sydney