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What’s happening: In late May, a 21-year-old college student fell to her death after climbing over a retaining wall while taking photos on the top of scenic cliff in Oregon. The tragedy is the latest example of a disturbing trend of people dying while trying to capture that perfect picture.
These accidents frequently involve selfies. One study found that 259 people worldwide died while taking selfies between 2011 and 2017, although the researchers believe the true number to be much higher. Selfies have led to people falling off of buildings, drowning in rivers and even being electrocuted.
Why there’s debate: Incidents of selfie-related deaths have spiked with the proliferation of smartphones to capture the perfect snapshot for social media posts. Reports of tragic deaths, especially those involving young people, are showing up with alarming regularity.
Social media is commonly cited as a cause. Platforms like Instagram, some say, lead people to forget about their surroundings and disregard safety in pursuit of online praise. There’s also a new crop of digital daredevils who go to extremes in the hopes of developing a following and raking in money from their dangerous exploits. Others argue that the compulsion to document and share our experiences is part of human nature that has existed long before smartphones.
Some believe the threat of selfie-related fatalities is overstated relative to other causes of accidental deaths. As evidence, they point to incidents, such as a woman’s recent death in Lake Tahoe, where news reports may have incorrectly stated the victim fell while taking photos.
What’s next: Some national parks, cities and countries have launched selfie death awareness campaigns to remind visitors at popular tourist spots to prioritize safety over snapshots. Some places have even established “no selfie zones” in particularly dangerous areas.
Dangerous behavior can bring notoriety on social media
“A subculture has emerged in the past eight years of people who seek out death-defying situations–and they do it for the likes, followers, and adulation of fans on social media.” — Mike Elgan, Fast Company
Selfies are merely one example of humans’ ability to find stupid ways to die
“No one has ever been killed by a selfie. A lot of people have been killed by stupid behavior. …When it comes to social media’s impact on the outdoors, all of us are getting mad about the wrong thing.” — Wes Siler, Outside
The desire to be praised is part of human nature
“I think it’s really important to understand that this is literally part of our human condition, right? We’re a pack species. We like other people to like us. We like them to know what we’re doing. And we’ve been doing this for centuries, whether it was commissioning portraits, whether it was sending postcards from our trips, whether it was holding our neighbors hostage and making them watch 10,000 slides from our family vacation. This is part of who we are.” — Kathryn Miles to NPR
Selfies have become so commonplace, we forget about our surroundings
“People see taking a selfie as not risky, that there’s no danger involved, that, ‘I’ve taken a million and I’ve seen a million on social media and no one ever gets hurt in these.’ They forget it’s not about the fact you’re taking a selfie. It’s about the fact you’re putting yourself in a dangerous situation.” — Psychologist John Grohol to WebMD
Social media has fomented an unsafe need to make everything about ourselves
“How better to emphasise the awesome scale of a cliff on a few thousand pixels of social-media post than by giving it context. Such as yourself. Dangling over the edge. Nevermind that one slip could send you to your death.” — Jamie Seidel, News.com.au
Selfie deaths are the result of unintelligent behavior
“But during my vacation to the Southwest last month, I had plenty of opportunities to ponder why it is that so many people are tumbling off mountains or into canyons these days. It’s because they’re idiots.” — John Kelly, Washington Postting a tragedy as a selfie-related death may be a subtle way of suggesting the little narcissist deserved it.” — Jill Filipovic, CNN