Last week, Instafamous model Essena O’Neill cried, “Social media isn’t real.” Post after post, she harped on many things: That her photos were “NOT REAL LIFE,” that people turn phony in their virtual lives.
Local online influencers share a piece of their mind. “I don’t really agree with her. I feel she made herself feel pressured,” model and travel blogger Chelsea Robatochimes. “For instance, 100 shots for one post on Instagram?! She needs to live her life.”
“She felt the need to come clean because she couldn’t keep up pretending. It stressed her out and took a toll on her,” adds lifestyle blogger Jackie Go, who has worked with brands like Matrix Philippines, Daylong by Cetaphil, and Lotte Xylitol. “She used social media to create an illusion that she’s living the life. The life most teenagers her age want. That’s where it gets tricky.”
Living to be liked
The thing is, social media has become a place for people to be who they are, and at the same time, become who they aren’t. And when the likes start pouring in, it’s easy to fall into the trap of pandering to followers for the sake of building your numbers.
“Success in social media could definitely go the business route, as well as the ego and alter-ego route,” shares Religion Black blogger and stylist Tina Ong, whose signature style nabbed her two clothing collaborations with local fashion label Basic Movement. “I think that Essena felt strongly about not being genuine anymore… She probably got tired of feeling the pressure of trying to reach everyone’s expectations of her, as well as [how it has] become more of a job than a personal outlet to share anything she wanted.”
It’s been so easy to hide behind our feeds, and assume personas far more perfect than our real-time selves.“I believe that we all have fallen into the Essena moment wherein you start to second guess yourself because you begin to seek validation from social media,” shares model and online influencer Sam Rodriguez, who is a Bench endorser and Nike Women ambassador. “I totally understand where she’s coming from.”
The fine line between authenticity and hypocrisy
Once you gain a significant following, that’s when brands come a-knocking. And if you were privy to how much online influencers are paid for a single Instagram post, you’d understand the temptation to say yes to every single opportunity.
It’s as much a business as it is a personal choice. However, transparency is still an issue, since not all bloggers are upfront about sponsored posts. Did you buy those shoes or were they sent to you? Were you paid by a company to write about their products?
“I respect online influencers’ choices and their reasons for not being exactly transparent with their followers,” Tina reflects. “If I were a follower and transparency became an issue for me, the unfollow button is very easy to access.”
“Having someone sponsor you means they believe in you, and what you can bring to their brand,” Jackie, who is a full-time blogger, says. “Real digital influencers are people who truly believe in the brands they promote. Whether they’re paid or not is another story.”
It should be noted that this ethics issue is not unique to social media influencers. Journalists receive swag bags sent by PR companies and may choose to post about them. Even celebrities who endorse certain products have to fulfill a certain amount of sponsored posts on social media. In certain cases, a post’s authenticity is something followers have to deduce for themselves.
“It’s a new way of marketing, and [there’s] nothing wrong with that. It’s just like a brand get models for a billboard, campaign, or a TV commercial,” Jessica agrees.
We need to remember that social media, as Sam says, “is but a tool.” “The truth is that I do get sent products here and there… [but] I only truly post events that happen in my every day life and products that I can personally appreciate,” she tells.
Blogger Laureen Uy echoes this. “At the end of the day, you still get to be the one to choose what you post or not post online. You decide if you want to accept a project that you feel doesn’t really reflect your lifestyle. For me, it’s really just about being responsible.”
Who’s the realest of them all?
Essena might be wrong on this one. Depending on who’s posting, social media could bereal life—just shot “in the best angle and lighting possible,” according to Sam. It’s a personal choice to make it a medium for genuine, albeit photogenic, expression.
If anything, it’s a space for something—that of aspiration and honesty. Online influencers may choose to fit right in, or opt out of a dizzying world of approval.
They’re #celebrityconstructs, Essena cried. But so is reality. Who gets to decide what’s real and what isn’t? You or your followers? As long as you’re comfortable with what goes on behind-the-scenes, there’s no reason to cry “wolf.”