When Australian internet star Essena O’Neill stopped receiving cash for her Instagram and YouTube exploits she could no longer afford to pay rent.
Ms O’Neill, 18, recently quit social media-funded life because she felt “suffocated” by having to make things seem perfect so sponsors would continue to pay her for featuring their products.
She had more than 800,000 followers on Instagram and YouTube, making her audience a lucrative market for brands to tap into.
“I have created an image of myself that I think others feel is unattainable, others look at as a role model, others look at as some type of ‘perfect human’,” Ms O’Neill announced in a video that she has since deleted.
“I get people saying every day on my Tumblr or on Instagram … ‘I wish I was you’.
“Lately I’ve realised how horrible that is. For someone to follow my content and think I wish I was you, that is the opposite of what I want to promote.”
Ms O’Neill has since deleted all of her social media accounts.
Before that, she altered the captions on her Instagram shots to portray the “truth”, like below:
However, Ms O’Neill has already begun another form of social media – a website and Vimeo channel dedicated to convincing others to quit social media.
After selling the impression of a perfect life, she has now begun demanding people think about subjects like animal cruelty, social pressure and gender equality.
A 2015 story
Her story points to fact of life in 2015 – we’re living in the era of the millionaire internet megastar, where anyone can strike it rich and famous thanks to sponsorship.
Although these ‘celebrities’ are not household names, the brands lining up to advertise with them include Toyota, Gillette, Nissan, Nestle and MTV.
There is even an online business called FameBit, which links brands with “creators”, and they boast names like Loreal, McDonalds and Adidas.
YouTube has become so lucrative that Forbes – the magazine known for its numerous rich lists – recently published a World’s Top-Earning YouTube Stars 2015 edition.
There are no Aussies on the list and when contacted by The New Daily, YouTube Australia said earnings details were not available.
While “YouTubers” do make some money from ads integrated in their videos (this user estimates almost $2800 per one million views) most of the fortune for those on the list comes from sponsorship, product endorsements and movie, TV, book or recording deals.
Ms O’Neill had claimed she received “$2000 a post easy”, according to her deleted video.
And judging by the YouTube list below, it seems she would be on the lower end of the social media earning scale.
Forbes World’s Top-Earning YouTube Stars 2015 (*all $ values AUD)
Rosanna Pansino, dessert chef: $3.47 million, 4.89 million subscribers
Based in California, Pansino is the pre-imminent YouTube authority on all things baking.
She is self-trained and will soon publish her next cookbook.
Roman Atwood, prankster: $3.47 million, 7.65 million subscribers
Atwood proves you can make a lot of money by getting people to laugh at really stupid things.
Scroll through his long video catalogue and you’ll see titles like “Grandma gets arrested”, “insane toilet paper prank” and “dog poo prank”.
He even once partnered with Nissan in a prank, and was of course paid for the trouble.
Lilly Singh, comedian: $3.47 million, 7.02 million subscribers
On YouTube, Lilly Singh is known as Superwoman, and she is adored for her comedy that leans heavily on her Indian background.
She also sings (no pun intended) and in 2015 went on a world tour which hit 27 different cities around the globe.
Michelle Phan, make-up artist: $4.16 million, 8.14 million subscribers
When you see your favourite celebrity with an amazing make-up job and you want to replicate it for yourself, this is the woman the world turns to.
For example, you can log on and see how to get Lady Gaga or Angelina Jolie’s look, and Phan will step you through it.
KSI, video game commentator and rapper: $6.42 million, 11 million subscribers
Apparently you can make money by being a video game commentator. Just ask KSI, real name Olajide Olatunji.
The Brit is famous because he started selfie-videoing himself playing and commentating his gaming.
Not a bad way to make bank.
Rhett & Link, comedians: $6.42 million, 3.8 million subscribers
What made this comedy duo (Rhett McLaughlin and Charles Neal) really well-known was their send-ups of morning variety show news anchors.
They’re sponsored by big brands like Gillette and Toyota.
Lindsey Stirling, dancing violinist: $8.32 million, 7.18 million subscribers
Imagine trying to play a violin and dance at the same time. You don’t have to, because Lindsey Stirling just does that.
She started doing this when she missed out on a recording contract in 2007, but now the companies are clamouring to sign her.
Too late though, she is happy doing it this way, providing entertainment to her “loyal fan base that wants her to succeed”.
Fine Brothers, entertainers: $11.8 million, 13.1 million subscribers
Their YouTube channel is described as a “comedy series”, and rose to prominence when they made videos showing people reacting to other videos.
Now the guys have a television show in the works with Nickelodeon, called React to That.
Smosh, comedians: $11.8 million, 21.5 million subscribers
If you’re between the ages of 17 and 26, you would have seen Smosh’s iconic Pokemon theme parody video.
From that humble video, Ian Hecox and Anthony Padilla have spawned into a YouTube entertainment powerhouse with five separate channels and a movie.
PewDiePie, video gamer, comedian: $16.7 million, 40.1 million subscribers
PewDiePie, aka Felix Kjellberg, just clocked over 10 billion total video views on his channel.
His incredible popularity is made even more mysterious by the fact he is very rarely seen in public, or giving interviews – unlike the others on this list.
(Warning: this video has explicit language)