How growing up on social media shaped me
I’d like to believe that in our formative years, we all had one individual obsession that got us through middle school. For me, it was the Percy Jackson book series by Rick Riordan. However, my obsession got me “internet famous” at 15 years old.
It started with me going on the internet and looking at incredible fan-art of the characters and scouring for theories on the next book. I didn’t have anyone around me that I could obsess over this series with, so I started a Percy Jackson Instagram account called @ohmyolympus. I began reposting all of my favorite fan-art and introduced myself to my followers as my account started garnering attention. Within a year, I gained over ten-thousand followers.
I finally had people to talk to about this series, and I developed friendships that I still maintain today. The weirdest part was that who I was on the internet was completely above the anxieties I had in “real life.” It allowed me to unlock a different piece of myself. As I gained popularity, people started to treat me as more than just a fan — complete strangers began creating fan-fiction, video edits and fan-art of me.
At the time, I was an insecure teen that did not know that it was okay to have different interests than my peers. Most of my friends wanted to do sports or explore makeup, but I felt most at home alone surrounded by my favorite heroes and plots. This Instagram account was the first time I felt like I could be who I was and not have to apologize for it.
The Percy Jackson fandom community was huge and ever-growing. Cosplayers, fans who dress up and recreate characters from the books, made up the biggest portion of the fandom. I myself didn’t cosplay, as I mainly posted ridiculous videos and fan-art, but it did not stop me from making connections.
I remember scrolling across this piece of fan-art that illustrated “the seven” main characters lounging on a couch watching a movie together. This piece of art inspired me. I wanted to see what life with the characters would be like on a daily basis — almost if they had vlogs.
With the loose thought of character vlogs on my mind, I reached out to a few cosplayers and asked if they’d like to start a channel exclusively as our beloved characters. We had a full cast in no time and anticipation from the fandom as we kept our plan a secret. We were The Secret Project Squad (The SPS). With fifteen members, we were able to create a lot of new and creative content using the original series as a launchpad. The SPS was the first YouTube channel of its kind within our fandom.
We gained popularity and grew into a huge collaboration group that created content for the fandom together. I lived with a co-creator on the channel in Texas for two weeks where we now work together at Camp Half-Blood Austin every summer. I visited Canada to stay with one of the channel collaborators to celebrate my 18th birthday. We were not just creating content but building friendships.
Every day, there was a new video filmed and released of us as the characters from the series. We posted dozens of storytimes, as if we were from the book ourselves, and made collaborative videos painstakingly edited to look like we were together. Outside of Instagram, we had a presence on YouTube that generated hundreds of comments and new subscribers daily.
However, my internet fame did not translate into reality. I clung to the validation from fans online and based my successes as an individual on how well my posts did, or how many accounts made fan-art of either my personal photos or my collaboration group.
I was invested in the internet community as it felt like the only thing that really mattered. However, as cool as my cyber fame was, I did not anticipate the public scrutiny it opened me up to. Strangers would comment on my weight, my hairstyle, or my personality just by looking at my posts. This was damaging, to say the least, as the critiques of everything from my body to my personality made me question my self-worth.
This Instagram account had given me so many new friends and a level of confidence in my genuine self that I’d never experienced. I wanted to hold on to that forever. But the worst part about growing up on the internet was having your validation handed to you time and time again. When it stops, you think you did something wrong. It was hard going from daily positivity and encouragement to receiving hateful comments. It made me feel like I was the problem.
Who we became to entertain the masses was not who we really were, but it became so ingrained into us that adapting to attention (negative or positive) came to a lot quicker for us than it did for most. We had gotten used to the idea of everything we did being under a microscope. With lots of us having depression and anxiety at the time, anything we posted was open for criticism by random internet users assuming we needed “help,” guidance and so on. The number of individuals who felt they had a say in what we did, and who we were, was constricting. But we had each other to get through it.
Losing That Spark
I remember the first time I felt a lull in the community. All of us had burnt out and the passion for the series was gone; we weren’t putting out content we were proud of. We looked at others, comparing ourselves to other accounts that did incredibly well with no pushback from the community. It felt like we had used all of our passion up. We were growing up and leaving the kids we were behind.
There was never a formal discussion for ending the channel we put so much work into. We would suggest holiday-themed videos that were never released, and there were huge collaboration projects that no one submitted their clips for. We could create individual content, but the fun had always come from working with each other. Naturally, we all knew it was time to release ourselves from the obligation of being public figures.
Being twenty-one now, I can see how trivial all of it was. But back then, I thought it was everything. I based my entire worth on likes, comments and my niche-community popularity instead of my other capabilities. I knew I wanted to be an actress, but could I accomplish that with a ridiculous platform?
It took me until 2018 to officially deactivate the account that I’d grown up on. I knew that deactivating the account that had over five years of memories, inside jokes and personal accomplishments would be hard, but it was necessary. When I finally let it rest, I felt like I could exhale.
It was not easy to adapt to the loss of constant support and attention. Yet, I no longer felt like all of my posts would be up for target practice anymore. I felt like I could settle into the person I wanted to become instead of the personality I presented.
I took this love for books and escapism and morphed it into a weird mentality of seeking approval. Research shows that some of the negative effects of social media include “warped self image,” which is something I struggled with then and still do today. My love for the series kept me sane until it didn’t, and letting go of that account and lifestyle was challenging.
You find growth when you jump without a safety net. For me, jumping with no safety net meant letting go of the version of reality I’d created. No more rivalries, comparisons, or hate comments have found me since I let go of my old persona. That’s not to say this peace is permanent, but it is enjoyable at the moment.