People do questionable things on social media all the time. For example, someone may post a shirtless selfie, or start an Instagram for their dog. The list goes on. But one of the more dangerous trends that have emerged from our incessant needs for likes and validation is the dangerous selfie.
You’ve probably seen them before. They are the selfies of people casually dangling their feet off a 100 story building, or lounging near a cliff while snapping a pic. However, in a widely reported study published in 2018, the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care found that 259 people died from selfie-related deaths from October 2011 to November 2017.
Rooftopping for the Likes
Don’t let the advent of social media lead you to believe that death-defying stunts are a new thing. People have been doing dumb sh*t for a while now. The trend of the dangerous selfie, though, can be traced back to the activity of Rooftopping. Rooftopping is what it sounds like, a subculture of people who get their rocks off climbing to the top of skyscrapers or bridges for pictures.
One of the first rooftopping pictures came from Canadian Tom Ryaboi with his post captioned “I Can Make You Famous.” In the picture, Ryaboi’s feet are dangling from a Toronto skyscraper, the shot looking straight down into the streets below.
Unsurprisingly, Ryaboi’s antics spawned a number of copycats, people hungry for viral fame who risked life and limb for dangerous footage. And the copycats may be a problem in itself. Many of the most accomplished daredevils no doubt have the resources and safety precautions to ensure their stunts go smoothly. For the rest of the public, they most likely don’t.
But while there is a great risk in the dangerous selfie, for the most enterprising, the dangerous selfie pays out in big ways.
More Likes, More Followers
There are all types of “influencers” out there, and the daredevil influencer is but one strain. Many of these influencers have turned their adventures into high follower counts and thousands of likes. Take for example Night Scape aka Harry Gallagher. Gallagher has built a mini-empire online out of climbing to the tops of buildings around the world. His Instagram boasts 218K followers, while his YouTube page has 995K subscribers. The former Gallagher uses to post sponsored ads for clothing brands.
But it also doesn’t stop at simply large social audiences. Like all influencers, daredevils have created additional revenue sources. For instance, YouTube channel TGFBro, a collective who push the boundaries when it comes to zany online acts, sells merch and other items in addition to them creating a rooftop slip and slide. Breach Apparel has also cashed in on urban adventuring, creating apparel for “the movers, adventurers and explorers.” As more and more people enter the sphere for their own skyscraper selfie, the competition grows, creating more dangerous stunts, new death-defying ways to expand the brand.
As the dangerous selfie trend has become more popular over the years, others are taking precautions to warn or even prevent people from taking dangerous selfies for the ‘gram. Out in Pamplona, if you attempt to take a photo or video during the Running of the Bulls, the city can fine you upwards of $3,000. The race has seen an uptick in injuries which stem from participants attempting selfies while running.
Elsewhere, some tourist sites are considering redesigning their spaces with selfies in mind. Jim Daly, the Minister for Mental Health and Older People in Ireland has suggested installing “selfie-seats” at tourist destinations like the Cliffs of Moher.
“Families and individuals love taking photographs of themselves in areas of natural beauty. But often it is almost impossible to find a steady location or to know where the best shot is,” Daly said. “Tourists, being time sensitive, like to know where to go and what to do. They also like clear shots rather than grainy images on their social media and Instagram.”
But while “selfie-seats” and other precautions might eliminate the “danger” part of the dangerous selfie, it doesn’t account for those who want to take it further for more likes. The only way to strip the dangerous selfie of its popularity is to look at how the platforms that host the images operate.
For their part, Instagram and YouTube police questionable content, with Instagram relying on Facebook’s community standards to flag harmful content. While there is no “harm” in a cool picture taken from a skyscraper per se, perhaps a future, where risky selfies are not glamorized or promoted in any significant way, exists. Until then we can only hope that people recognize the risks involved in selfie stunts for social media.