Social Media… Friend or Foe?

Hello Sheffielders!

There’s been a lot in the press of late in regard to social media- Instagram and blogging stars ‘coming out’ about the reality behind the photos, posts and the general online personas of which they portray.

Eighteen year old Essena O’Neill is an Australian teen whose Instagram account boasts over half a million followers. Up until recently, she made a sizeable income solely through product promotion on Instagram but has now deleted over 2000 of her photos and re-captioning the remaining ones with the honest truth behind them. One post that particularly stuck with me is this:

“This is what an addiction to your appearance, social media and social approval looks like. Our physical bodies do not define us. I won the genetic lottery. These thoughts are not original, others have said them before and others can say it all better. But you listen because I look pretty here. That’s messed up.”

 

Photo credit http://bit.ly/1RqZ94C

I am of the Facebook generation. I know as well as any other millennial the struggles of growing up in the social media age. I have had fights with classmates online, seen reputations shattered when nude photos are leaked and spent hours chatting on MSN, being scared out of my mind when I first received a “nudge”.

But more than anything, as a female I have grown up in a society that has let me think that my sum-worth as an individual is almost entirely dependent on how attractive I am. There’s been little/no emphasis on other, more important traits such as growing up to be a person of intelligence and integrity.

Now I don’t know if Essena’s announcement is a hoax, or a very well executed PR stunt. Those like me who had never heard of her before are now discussing her actions, and her story is across national papers worldwide. You can view the full story here.

But what I do know however is this- the point she has made is very important. And ranging from a small to a large extent, we are all perpetrators of the same crime that she is speaking out against.

I am no exception. If you were to find me on Facebook, you’d see smiling photos of me with my family and friends. Pictures from holidays, day trips, my graduation. You’d see that I have an amazing job, my own flat and enough disposable income to have fun at weekends.

What you wouldn’t see however is the ongoing battles that many of us have, or will face every day. The loneliness, the struggle to find a job that becomes a career, the adjustment to full-time work, and the sadness when friends who were once close don’t make an effort any more. Trying to manage my time, excel at work and maintain a social life at the same time. These things are hard. Honestly, some of the hardest challenges that I have faced… and yet they are rarely discussed. Not by bloggers, not by people in the limelight, sometimes not even by our friends. What is this perfect pretence we are all trying to upkeep?

Similarly, as I work in PR and marketing, I feel the same honesty on social media should apply to businesses and professionals. I’m sure you’ve all seen posts from D-list celebrities which are clearly undisclosed ads, and the same with famous bloggers.

I remember discussing the topic during one of my first work experience placements. A London based luxury jewellery company, the MD told me how bloggers with a small following (500 Twitter followers, for example) would have the audacity to charge companies sums of £500 or more to feature items on their blogs… sometimes only even one image and a link. Not only this, the payment they had received would often not even be disclosed. I couldn’t believe it- as The Sheffielder was still in its infancy, I knew that bloggers were sometimes sent free products to review. However I was very much of the impression that receiving a product for free would surely be enough of a perk.

What’s wrong isn’t the endorsements themselves, but the nature of them. There are some partnerships that were made in heaven, but I was taught early on in my studies that what makes good PR and marketing is honesty and transparency in your work. The same goes for how you portray yourself online personally- Am I really supposed to believe that that is a #nomakeup selfie?

I guess what I’m trying to say is that these kinds of blurred lines aren’t what I myself, or The Sheffielder are about… not now, and not ever. If I ever feature a product I was sent for free, it will be disclosed. Similarly, in the unlikely event I am ever paid to feature a product that will be clearly marked too. I firmly believe that bloggers have a ethical responsibility to their readers, as well as to themselves.

And whilst we’re at it, I too sometimes swear and complain and look less than wonderful when I wake up after a night out. Don’t think that people who are better known, or have a larger following than yourselves are immune to any of these things- or the struggles and hardships that come along in life, too.

Until next time,
Hannah x

 

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