Twenty-seven-year-old Edgar Garay was killed after he fell from a cliff in Puerto Rico last Sunday while attempting to film a social media video for TikTok. He is sadly among the latest person to be killed while trying to stage a perfect photo or video.
A 2018 study conducted by Indian researchers from the All India Institute of Medical Sciences found that 259 people had died between 2011 and 2017 while trying to take “extreme selfies” with their phones. These have included falls from the tops of mountains, cliff sides, and even tall buildings; while others have been swept away by water currents, and more than a few were killed by wild animals. In one case, a pair of Russian soldiers had posed with a live grenade that suddenly went off, while a teenage Romanian girl tried to take an “ultimate selfie” from the top of a moving train only to come in contact with a live wire.
It is also a global phenomenon – with selfie-related deaths being most common in India, Russia, the United States, and Pakistan. Nearly three-quarters of those killed were men.
Selfies And Social Media
There were likely plenty of cases of people dying while trying to take the perfect photo prior to the days of camera phones and social media, but the problem does seem to be growing.
One factor could be that we’re able to take photos with greater ease than ever. According to recent reports, 1.81 trillion photos are taken worldwide every year, which equates to more than 57,000 per second or 5 billion per day. That number will increase to 2.3 trillion photos every year.
The vast majority probably won’t be seen by others, but billions are still uploaded every day, and it seems that many people are trying to take a “perfect shot” that hasn’t been taken a million times before.
The ease with which videos can be filmed and shared is also resulting in more people taking unnecessary risks.
“It is certainly exacerbated now, and we do hear about it more,” said Clifford Lampe, professor in the School of Information at the University of Michigan. “Two things make it different now. Social media is good at focusing attention on the things we do, and what used to be on mass media can now live on TikTok or other platforms without a gatekeeper that says, ‘this is a bad idea.'”
This is also an extension of the fear of missing out (FOMO).
“We are seeing many people feel they have to capture every moment of their lives, and then immediately post it to social media or it didn’t matter,” added Prof. Jason Mollica, professorial lecturer in the School of Communication at American University.
“And this can include trying to take a similar photo that someone else took, and make it better,” Mollica noted. “‘If someone else did this, then it must be safe’ can be the thinking. We see many people – in part because we are so enamored with celebrity – that we try to do the same.”
Make It Look Easy
The ability to take photos and videos so easily is also notable. It used to be that those idealized photos in magazines were taken only by professionals. Now everyone can try to do it – and some learn that it isn’t as easy as it seems, and that too could contribute to the accidents as individuals may pay more attention to the photo taking or video filming than their safety.
“A professional knows how to get the right composition, where everyone else just takes a thousand photos,” explained Lampe. “We just get lucky by taking so many shots that we somehow get the right composition.”
The Platforms Can’t Stop It
Here is a case where the social media platforms may not actively be encouraging risky behaviors – like climbing to the edge of a cliff to take a selfie – but there is really nothing that Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, or TikTok could do to stop it either.
“The algorithms aren’t able to focus on the safety of content, and people seeing the perfect photo or video may not realize how dangerous it was,” added Lampe. “Videos are increasingly an unreliable narrator. You’re only seeing a curated vision of what is happening. You don’t see the failed attempts. Photos and videos thus present an idealized view of the world.”
Then there is the fact that these beauty shots can be quite rewarding – first from the feelings that the individual receives when seeing they’re the subject of such a shot, and then from the accolades it may receive when shared online.
“There is often a dopamine rush when you’re posting something truly special to social media,” said Lampe. “Everyone is now a content producer and creator, so when you post something that gets a lot of attention, it becomes a reward.”
Tragically that reward can cost lives. Social media platforms may crack down on dangerous challenges but can do little to stop this type of dangerous activity.
“This is absolutely a case where young people especially haven’t been educated in what social media can do if you use it in the wrong way,” warned Mollica. “They don’t understand that it can lead to you being hurt or killed.”