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  • Eloise Barclay

Dumb Ways to Die | Killer Selfies

It’s the gift that keeps on giving. The 6-year-old advertising phenomenon has even more relevance today, with selfie-related deaths in the hundreds reminding us of our unfailing stupidity when it comes to our safety.


In 2012, the Australian Government released a shockingly cute video called “Dumb Ways to Die” in an effort to promote railway safety and general sensibility. The 3-minute-long video consists of ways in which we, humans, have the ability to completely ignore our common sense and well… die from it. Because common sense ain’t so common these days. Some examples include getting toast out of a toaster with a fork, poking a grizzly bear with a stick, taking your helmet off in outer-space… you get the idea. Little did the creators know, that in 2018 their advertisement should look more like this…

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past 5 years, a “selfie” is a photograph that a person takes of themselves, typically with a smartphone, and shares via social media (SM). A report on Identifying Dangerous Selfies, revealed that between March 2014 to January 2018, 216 individuals have died trying to take a selfie. From this, an intriguing fact was discovered - 40.5% of all fatal selfies were taken in India. That accounts for almost half of the fatalities! Mumbai, in particular, has proven to be a magnet for selfie fatalities, with three recent cases of young adults under the age of 21 drowning whilst trying to take a selfie. The risk of death by selfie is so high in these locations that the local Indian authorities stationed police at these areas to monitor risky selfie-taking. They even identified 16 no-selfie zones. Despite their efforts and clear warnings, people still prefer to take the risk for the ‘Likes’ on their perfect ‘gram’, than preserve their own life.

So, what drives a person to take a life-threatening selfie?

The 2016 report, Me, Myself and My Killfie: Characterizing and Preventing Selfie Deaths, suggests that people who take selfies have narcissistic tendencies, using selfies as a form of approval, self-identification and expression. This is further fueled by what is known as “social currency”.

Social currency, in this sense, is the number of Likes, Comments and Shares a SM poster receives on their SM platforms. The desire to increase this social currency is prompting youth to extreme lengths. Just like addicts gamble for money, selfie addicts are gambling with their lives for this social currency.

I myself don’t like to admit it, but I am guilty of occasionally having this mentality. On a recent trip to Bali (said every Australian ever) I almost got myself into a very dangerous situation. If it weren’t for my partner who said, “put the phone down”, I wouldn’t have noticed a very forceful 2-metre wave enter Angel’s Billabong (as pictured below). All I was thinking about in the moment was, this place is gorgeous… I must show everyone and it will get bulk Likes!

Yikes… That is a scary thought, but I guess we all do it.

The whole selfie obsession appears to be based around a false sense of approval. A study conducted by Frontiers in Psychology revealed that 82% of SM users don’t even enjoy viewing selfies in their SM feeds. So why do we do it? Is it simply the fact that seeing so many risky selfies on SM has normalised this behaviour? My friend took a RAD selfie on the edge of a cliff so I should too!? Try telling that to your mum the next time she pulls out the ole, “if your friend jumped off a cliff would you too?!” line.

The whole selfie obsession appears to be based around a false sense of approval. A study conducted by Frontiers in Psychology revealed that 82% of SM users don’t even enjoy viewing selfies in their SM feeds. So why do we do it? Is it simply the fact that seeing so many risky selfies on SM has normalised this behaviour? My friend took a RAD selfie on the edge of a cliff so I should too!? Try telling that to your mum the next time she pulls out the ole, “if your friend jumped off a cliff would you too?!” line.

Zlatan Krizan, an associate professor of psychology at Iowa State University argues that because of selfie-takers’ narcissistic behaviour, a competitive culture of social comparison online has been created. Amongst the riskiest selfie-takers, this creates a mentality of “one-upping” their components, increasing the risk of dying whilst taking a selfie even more each time.

This brings me back to the method that India used to try and prevent more deaths by selfie. Wouldn’t setting up 16 no-selfie zones inadvertently make extreme selfies more appealing by highlighting their forbidden and dangerous aspects, encouraging reverse psychology? It’s like telling a toddler to stay off the road and as a result, they instead lie down on it with a big cheeky grin on their face. Or like tempting Peter Griffin with a “do not push button” sign... It reinforces the competitive nature of this behaviour by telling people that they can’t do it.

So what can we actually do to prevent more deaths by selfie?

Russia, America and India have trialled numerous campaigns to try and put a stop to this dangerous behaviour, however, none of them has proven successful.

It is a fact that changing group behaviour is an incredibly difficult task that requires more than safety posters and area restrictions to be effective. The Dumb Ways to Die campaign went viral and was highly successful in raising awareness around railway safety. Maybe these countries should take a page or two out of the Australian Government’s campaign, to show people why taking a selfie in front of a moving train is potentially a dumb idea and not just tell them not to do it.

On that note, I shall leave you with this, sorry not sorry for getting the song stuck in your head for the rest of the week.



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