Are Deaths by Selfie an 'Epidemic'?

Are Deaths by Selfie an 'Epidemic'?

There is no denying that we live in a selfie-obsessed culture; just go, well, anywhere, and you'll see selfies being taken. A recent study in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care found over 250 verified "deaths by selfie" from October 2011 to November 2017, with a mean age of almost 23 years old. Has the fascination with recording ourselves wherever we go gone too far?

Kathryn Miles, a writer for Outside Magazine, digs into this question in her recent article titled "Selfie Deaths Are an Epidemic". She focuses on the story of Gigi Wu, a climber who was internet-famous for posting selfies of herself in bikinis on the peaks of various mountains. Wu died in January of this year after suffering a fall during a climb and ultimately succumbing to hyperthermia before rescuers could get to her. Miles uses the example of Wu and several other notable selfie-related deaths that have occurred recently to try to determine whether there is a difference between the sort of epic landscape photos we are used to seeing of these great natural mountains and heights and the selfie-centric images that have surged in popularity with the advent of social media.

To do this, Miles reached out to various social media and psychology experts, including Sarah Diefenbach, a professor of consumer psychology at the Ludwig-Maximilians University of Munich and lead author of the 2017 research article The Selfie Paradox. Diefenbach suggested that, while the medium for selfies might be a recent development, the drive to control our images and communicate with our community is not. “We have always had a very basic need for self-presentation,” the professor explains.

The article is a fascinating read and gives an interesting perspective on the question of "how far is too far?" Has social media pushed us to the point of recklessness for the sake of followers and likes? At what point does the drive to #doitforthegram become a risk that outweighs the so-called rewards? I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments below, but please, always make sure you are practicing good safety techniques wherever your photography might take you.

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27 Comments

Fristen Lasten's picture

Hopefully these self-centered self-image-obsessed 20 somethings don't take innocent people with them.

Michael Jin's picture

Humanity is an epidemic. "Death by selfies" is part of the cure.

Daniel Medley's picture

The word "epidemic" is used far too much in today's hyper-sensational media world. A few people pushing the limits thus resulting in untimely death does not equate to an epidemic.

Alex Reiff's picture

If you really want to get technical, the word 'epidemic' strictly applies to the uncontrolled spread of a pathogen.

Jonathan Brady's picture

We need more of these "accidents"

Paul Asselin's picture

Darwin Award Winners. And just what 'reward' is there when taking these 'risks'. It's too late for those already gone but anyone thinking of doing theses stupid stunts just for a selfie have to understand that NOBODY cares if you take a picture of yourself except you.

Not an epidemic, more like a cure for stupid people-itis ;P

Gion-Andri Derungs's picture

I don't care, if they kill themselves. I only hope they don't take innocent people with them. A picture is never worth that risk.

In fact, it is a disease. The fact that you are willing to take really great risk just to get attention must be a mental disorder.

Spy Black's picture

Everyone's so eager to dismiss this as someone's stupidity. I suppose one can write it off as purifying the gene pool, but that's someone's kid, who someone spent their lives raising, who's paid a bad price by nature of bad judgement. Bad judgement comes easy when you're young. I would cut these kids a little slack.

Robert Nurse's picture

They do say that the human brain, at least, the reasoning center, isn't fully formed until, what, age 25? So, yeah, bad judgement when you're young is par for the course. Especially when you mix in the need to be accepted/liked. When I was that young, there was less to get into trouble with I guess.

Paul Asselin's picture

There is a time and a place to take risks in life but self promotion is not one of them. These risk takers are of the generation where they were protected from all perils by their parents and they likely never got burned when they were kids so they never suffered a small risk. I do have sympathy for the parents but perhaps they have a level of responsibility here too.

Sure, I did some really stupid stuff when I was young. I was lucky though and survived all of it.
But when you look at the way some youngster go to great lengths, to just get attention, there is something really wrong in their lives.

Some adolescents got depressed because they think other people's lives are perfect judging from Facebook or Instagram while most of it is just a scam. I only shows the nice sides of people's live, most often not the bad sides.

Joel Meaders's picture

Narcissism is the epidemic and death-by-selfie is a rare but serious side effect.

Gary Gray's picture

Darwinism?

No matter what you do, some folks are just going to be stupid.

Bad decisions make for bad results.

Play stupid games....Wins stupid prizes....

Andrew Richardson's picture

Almost 100% of the comments so far are some form of "they had it [death] coming" or "that's what you get for being stupid!" It feels worth reiterating that the articles (since it appears most people commenting didn't read it) focuses on the story of Gigi Wu, a 36 year old woman who was an experienced climber and hiker who also happened to share photos of herself on top of the things she climbed. She died as the result of a hiking accident and hypothermia, not stupidity trying to do something she was not adequately trained or prepared to do. Personally, I would be much more hesitant to say that someone like Wu "deserved" to die.

Now, with all that being said, these idiots climbing cranes and high-rises and hanging off the edge? Oh yeah, Darwin Awards for days.

There is some truth in what you say.

There is a distinction between doing something dangerous (mountain climbing, skydiving, motorcycle racing etc) for which you accept the risk. In that case the pictures are incidental to the risk.

By contrast taking the risk just to post a picture is a very different lack of judgement. I simultaneously feel sympathy for their families and outrage over their foolishness.

But this is NOT an epidemic. Billions of selfies are taken each year, very few result in tragedy. More people are killed by bee stings and lightning strikes.

Gion-Andri Derungs's picture

It's a difference in my opinion, if you die doing extrem sports or dying for a selfie. If you're doing these sports, you are well aware of the risks.

Well I read the article and it says we may never know how Wu died. For the purpose of the article I guess it makes sense to focus on a less extreme example. She repeatedly took dangerous selfies and people judging her may be assholes but the criticism is not unjustified.

I hike into the woods in the middle of nowhere to take nightscapes by myself. I take measures to protect myself but yes I could be attacked by a wild animal. I accept that risk and have made that clear to my loved ones. People die everyday not doing risky things at least you can go out doing something you're passionate about, even if it's some absurd cry for attention.

Rob Mitchell's picture

Natural selection.

Eddie DaRoza's picture

...mountain tops are cool, bikinis are cool... I HAVE AN IDEA!

Mark Harris's picture

These risk-takers are the reason we're not still living in caves. As teenagers the result might be just another photo, but twenty years later the same willingness to take risk means mortgaging the house to fund a long-shot idea to cure cancer.
I bet there were Neanderthals who tutted at Thag when he left the safety of the cave in a thunderstorm to get some sharper rocks for his cave painting, and then he came back with a branch with a funny hot yellow thing billowing out of one end.

Is pure darwinism derivated from a frivolous sensation of inmunity.

Photographer crouches on a railroad track or stands in the middle of the road to get that perfect perspective shot. Photographer never knows what hit him/her. Photographer gets so involved in that perfect seascape he/she does not see the crumbling edge of the cliff. Bye bye photographer. Photographer is so engrossed in the recording of that news event, he/she does not realize the bullets are flying. Bye bye. Photographer stands in the ocean with tripod. Rogue wave pulls photographer out to sea. Oops.
Photographers get so involved in their art they often forget their own safety. The camera becomes a blinder to the reality of the situation they are in. Those who criticize these selfie takers often take serious risks, except it's not to take pictures of themselves.

Marc DeGeorge's picture

Just discussing with a college professor how students have become more depressed over the last five years or so. While the cause wasn't directly apparent, Social Media is a strong contender for a reason.

Teenagers are an age group that looks for validation and support from their own age group before they seek it from their parents and family. I don't think this stops just because they graduate high school. Social Media is about seeking validation by looking a certain way, having a certain kind of lifestyle or by doing something shocking. (Tide Pod challenge, anyone?)

Interestingly, Instagram is thinking about removing the "likes" from posts. Although they are still allowing you to see how many likes you have on your own posts.