Selfies or self-portraits with a mobile phone have become ubiquitous, but there is a dark side too.
It’s an understatement of gargantuan proportions to say that selfies are popular. It’s hard to understand just how quickly selfies took the internet by storm, and really, it’s only been a few years since it all happened. They are so popular that they have been banned in some beaches in France, polling stations in the UK and selfie sticks and have been prohibited from the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam and Disney locations as being too intrusive and running the experience for others.
But now, with the average adult smartphone user taking upwards of X selfies a day, is it time to admit that there might be a dark side to this seemingly innocuous habit?
Is Vanity the Selfie’s Dark Side?
Before we get into talking about the dark side of selfies, let’s first talk about what that dark side isn’t. There’s often a lot of discussion centred around how inveterate selfie-takers are vain, selfish, rude, are too focused on their looks, and other such things. Is that really true?
Interestingly enough, the consensus from psychologists and other experts is: No. People who take a lot of selfies—even people who post a lot of selfies online—aren’t usually any more vain, selfish, or rude than anyone else. For the most part, taking selfies is not psychologically damaging. There are exceptions, of course, but in these cases, excessive selfie-taking is a symptom of the problem and not the cause.
The fact is, taking selfies and posting them on social media for all to see can be hugely positive and self-affirming. This is particularly the case for people who don’t often receive recognition for their appearance, or who often go unnoticed in society. For instance, a long-term international art project called #365FeministSelfie has seen thousands of people all over the world publishing daily selfies to help themselves and others feel more comfortable with their appearance.
It Wouldn’t be a Holiday Without a Selfie or Two
Some people just don’t like selfies, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But the notion that selfies are ruining the younger generation, or preventing people from enjoying life, is false. For the most part, people use selfies the way people used to use analog cameras: to record life’s best moments.
So holiday snaps aren’t the selfie’s dark side, either. In fact, it’s well-documented that the desire to take selfies in out-of-the-way holiday locations is great for the tourism industry! Luxury holiday park operator Away Resorts reported that up to 30% of people have visited a particular site for the express purpose of taking a selfie. And 53% of people say that they’ve decided to visit a particular location after having seen it on someone else’s social media post.
Another interesting factor? The “Instagram appeal” of a particular spot is often a big selling point for visitors! It’s a great thing for travel industry tour operators and vendors, and the savvy ones are already playing up the “instagrammable factor” on their own social media accounts.
For instance, Paula Hicks, the ECRM and Social Media Manager for Away Resorts, notes that posting user-generated content is an important part of the company’s social media strategy.
“With 6 holidays parks in fantastically instagrammable locations across the UK, we encourage our guests to share their holiday snaps with us on Instagram and Facebook and regularly run competitions for the best user generated photo. We love to re-post user generated content as it shows future guests what an Away Resorts holiday is all about. We’re thankful that our guests share their ‘world away’ with us, on our parks and social media.”
This is an excellent strategy, and it’s one that can work well for a wide range of business types. People love taking selfies, and people love buying and using new products. Why not combine the two, and run your own social media competitions? For instance, a competition where your followers post selfies where they’re using your products in unusual and imaginative ways?
What is the Selfie’s True Dark Side?
Clearly, there are some good things about the rise of the selfie, both for people, and for certain kinds of businesses. But that dark side is there too, and it is, unfortunately, an ever-increasing problem. The dark side of selfies isn’t about vanity, or so-called “selfitis”. It’s actually about a practice that’s even more unnerving, and more dangerous.
In October of 2018, the BBC reported that researchers had examined a recent spate of selfie-related deaths. The researchers came to the conclusion that between 2011 and 2017, a total of 259 deaths had occurred as a direct result of the desire to take a selfie. They examined reports from all over the world, discovering incidents where people had died due to electrocution, falling, fire damage, animal-related damage, drowning, and traffic accidents. But while the circumstances of the deaths were often different, the root cause was the same: someone was so focused on getting a selfie, they neglected to ensure their own safety.
So, that dark side definitely does exist, although it might be quite different to the dark side most people would imagine for the selfie. In order to try and prevent selfie-related tourism deaths, the US National Library of Medicine made the recommendation that “no-selfie zones” should be introduced at particularly hazardous location, in order to reduce the risk of further deaths occurring.