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Instagram Star Essena O’Neill Breaks Her Silence on Quitting Social Media

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After quitting social media two months ago, Essena O’Neill has broken her silence with an email newsletter. The 19-year old Internet star made global headlines when she posted a YouTube video explaining her decision to quit Instagram, YouTube and Tumblr in November, saying she wanted to prove that “social media is not real life.” She also launched a new website called Let’s Be Game Changers (which now redirects to a blank holding site with just her name on it) with the goal of educating people about the destructive nature of trying to gain approval online.

However, O’Neill was faced with an overwhelming backlash from others on the Internet, including former friends who said her new website was “100-percent self-promotion.” Now, she has finally addressed the media storm she created with a 6,210-word email to her followers in which she reiterates the reasons behind deleting her online presence.

“I was lost, with serious problems so beautifully hidden … If anything my social media addiction, perfectionist personality and low self esteem made my career,” she said. “Over-sexualisation, perfect food photos, perfect travel vlogs – it is textbook how I got famous. Sex sells, people listen to pretty blondes, I just happened to talk about veganism a trending thing on YouTube.”

Read More: Teen Instagram Star Speaks Out About The Ugly Truth Behind Social Media Fame

She spoke about her reaction to the negative response her actions incited: “I was just shocked and honestly just confused… the way it all turned so negative just numbed me…As if I was making it all up? For what? Money? Fame? I had that before so that makes sense? That I was a genius manipulator and knew this would make world news? I was a hypocrite because I used social media to explain my story to the half a million people that once idolised me? That I was a fraud, a hoax, a brilliant actor just because I was smiling in the pictures and said those smiles weren’t real? Seeing people I knew making videos as if my personal life, tears and obvious vulnerability… as if it was some kind of joke to them? I couldn’t believe people couldn’t just call me first, but wanted to make such a public spectrum.”

O’Neill also announced that she is writing a satirical book called How to Be Social Media Famous. “It got to the point where I just wanted to write, the satire/memoir that I’m currently working on but more so fiction. Sci-fi novels have been my dream since I was 12,” she said. “The next time I speak, the next time you hear from me, I’ll be standing stronger than I could have ever stood before.”


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Write to Megan McCluskey at megan.mccluskey@time.com