Killer selfies: When the perfect shot is the angle of death
The more extreme and risky the selfie, the more likes it gets, which can translate to real money
When choosing a holiday destination, what do you prioritise? The quality of the food or the weather? The online reviews or the guidebooks’ advice?
For a growing number of travellers, the answer is none of the above. The most important factor is how photogenic the location, silly!
And, more pertinent still, just how favourable a backdrop it might make to our selfies.
It was not until Apple introduced the front-facing camera on its iPhone 4 in 2010 that the global obsession with photographing ourselves really took off.
Narcissism had been repackaged as fun and socially acceptable – and an essential part of setting foot outdoors.
In its 2018 holiday report, tour company Thomas Cook aptly characterised the trend as “ego travel”.
More than half (52%) of holidaymakers aged 18-24 now consider their social media posts when choosing a hotel, the report found.
Even older travellers aren’t immune: 15% of the over-55s also admit to considering what they could share online “to make their friends jealous” when deciding which hotel to book.
But our obsession with selfies is also proving dangerous.
Earlier this week, a Taiwanese woman called Gigi Wu was found frozen to death in Yushan National Park. She reportedly fell more than 20m into a narrow gorge on Saturday, while trying to climb Taiwan’s highest peak.
There has been no suggestion she was taking a selfie at the time, but the 36-year-old was known for hiking up mountains wearing only a bikini, and had posted pictures of her exploits to her followers under the name “Barefoot Bikini Hiker”.
Last year, a global study by researchers at the US National Library of Medicine found the quest for extreme selfies had killed 259 people between 2011 and 2017.
Not included in the list of casualties were the 19-year-old American Gavin Zimmerman, who fell to his death taking selfies on a cliff in New South Wales, Australia, last July; or the Israeli 18-year-old Tomer Frankfurter, who fell 250m to his death in California’s Yosemite National Park in September. He, too, had been trying to take a selfie.
In October, mother-of-two Sandra Manuela Da Costa Macedo was filmed falling to her death from a 27th floor balcony in Panama City. Witnesses said she was still clutching her selfie stick as she fell.
Drowning and transport accidents were also among the most common causes of death by selfie, while animals, electrocution, fire and firearms accounted for a number of others.
The true scale of fatalities is believed to exceed the 259 documented, as “taking a selfie” is not recorded as an official cause of death. Yet.
While the brave among us have always taken risks in the name of adventure – think skydiving – such tragic ends are part of something else: the need to be seen to be doing something interesting. It’s no longer enough to just do it.
The Telegraph’s Sherelle Jacobs has previously written of her “travel photo addiction” in these pages: “My behaviour on this front has been out of control for some time,” she says.
“I pre-visualise holiday outfits as social media posts. And you know it’s getting ridiculous when you and your friends take exactly the same group selfies on holiday, swapping between each others’ cameraphones – then like each other’s identical Facebook posts.”
So why do so many of us do this? Why is it no longer enough to simply go somewhere and enjoy it?
The candid words of Sean Parker, the founding president of Facebook, go some way to explaining this.
In 2017, he admitted the thinking behind the social network was always how to consume as much of our time and attention as possible. “And that means that we need to sort of give you a little dopamine hit every once in a while, because someone liked or commented on a photo or a post or whatever,” he added.
“And that’s going to get you to contribute more content ...”
For others, it is not about dopamine but money.
Instagram “travel influencers” – those whose followings are so large that tour operators and hotels want to cash in – collaborate to create what are essentially adverts.
And the more extreme the post, quite often the more the likes (and the followers) it will rack up. All of which can be converted to serious cash. Which might explain the lengths some will go to.
The value, for businesses, of this kind of social media content versus conventional marketing lies in its “pull” factor, says Prof Dimitrios Buhalis, head of the tourism and hospitality department at Bournemouth University.
“When you see an advertisement someone is pushing at you, it makes you reluctant to accept it,” he says. “But what social media influencers have is the pull factor. [As a follower], you’re pulling that information, no one is forcing you to see it. You’ve selected who you’re aligned to.”
Meanwhile, those in the travel business have also been cashing in on the desire to share snaps online.
Some have introduced Instagram “butler” services, where staff can help you take the perfect pictures for your social media feed.
Such gimmicks within the safety of resorts may carry few mortal dangers, but as the stories of “death by selfie” show, a dark side to the trend exists.
Some popular tourist spots are becoming victims of their own popularity, cluttered with “no-selfie zone” signposts or guidelines to protect visitors.
Horseshoe Bend on the Colorado River, for instance, has transformed since the advent of the cellphone camera, from a little-known, hard-to-access location to a destination overrun with selfie-taking hoards, who in turn inspire others to visit.
“Digital popularity is physically changing the landscape,” warned one video report on the phenomenon.
But in the wake of the latest death by selfie, perhaps it may be dawning that “likes” and followers aren’t worth risking your life for.
As one user wrote in response to the news: “Stop. Stop, everyone. Just stop. Your Instagram and YouTube posts aren’t worth dying for.”
– © The Daily Telegraph