Researchers Identify Hundreds Of 'Selfie Deaths' From Media Reports

An oil worker takes a selfie near a burning oil field in Qayyarah, Iraq in 2016. (Photo: Chris McGrath, Getty Images)

Next time you’re tempted to take a risk to get that perfect selfie, maybe think twice about it. A new study by medical researchers from New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences has identified hundreds of people who suffocated in bodies of water, were struck by vehicles, plummeted off high surfaces, suffered lethal burn injuries, or otherwise met tragic demises while snapping a selfie, according to the Washington Post.

According to the study, which was published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, between October 2011 and November 2017 there were English-language media reports of at least 259 separate “selfie deaths” in 137 separate incidents. The leading cause of death identified from the reports was drowning, but there were also numerous incidents involving transportation (including being struck by trains), falls, and fires. Less common causes of self-related deaths included electrocution, firearms, and animals.

Ways people have died while taking selfies. (Graphic: U.S. National Library of Medicine, Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care)

The researchers wrote:

Drowning, transport, and fall form the topmost three reasons for deaths caused by selfies. The most common drowning incidents include washed away by waves on beach, capsizing of boats while rowing, clicking selfies on shore while not knowing how to swim, or ignoring warnings. Similarly, for transport, it is majorly the accidents due to clicking in front of a running train. Among all the reasons for death, drowning and fire have the highest deaths/incident ratio. Also, most of the selfie-related deaths because of firearms occurred in the United States.

While the researchers identified 142 of the deaths as involving some kind of risky behaviour, they also identified 69 incidents in which the person who died did not appear to have taken an unnecessary risk to get the shot:

For example, getting to a slippery edge of a cliff to click selfie has been marked risky while getting hit by a sea wave on a calm sea and drowning has been marked non-risky. In case of ambiguity (for example, slipping from stairs and getting injured and finally succumbing), a survey was conducted with 15 respondents and majority vote was taken to classify into one of the classes. Risky behaviour caused more deaths and incidents due to selfies than non-risky behaviour.

Additionally, the study identified just 17 selfie-related deaths of individuals aged 40 or over. The vast majority of the deaths involved those aged 10-29. It also noted that roughly three-fourths of the incidents involved males, whose tendency towards stereotypically masculine risky behaviour is well-documented, and that “There has been an exponential increase in the number of selfie deaths from 2014–2015 to 2016–2017.”

A chart illustrating the number of risky vs. non-risky “selfiecides” broken down according to sex. (Graphic: U.S. National Library of Medicine, Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care)

India had the highest number of deaths, followed by Russia, the United States, and Pakistan.

The researchers want to be clear this could happen to anyone momentarily seduced by the possibility of snapping a good one.

“The selfie deaths have become a major public health problem,” lead author Agam Bansal told the Post. “...If you’re just standing, simply taking it with a celebrity or something, that’s not harmful. But if that selfie is accompanied with risky behaviour then that’s what makes the selfies dangerous.”

Bansal added that the deaths were preventable, telling the paper, “Taking a toll on these many numbers just because you want a perfect selfie because you want a lot of likes, shares on Facebook, Twitter or other social media, I don’t think this is worth compromising a life for such a thing.”

A prior study published in the International Journal of Injury Control and Safety Promotion in 2017 identified 75 deaths in 52 countries “while attempting selfie” over the period of 2014 to mid-2016. One of the researchers involved in that study, orthopaedic surgeon Mohit Jain, told the Post “It’s like a man-made disaster. It’s not a natural disaster.”

One possible solution to the string of deaths is implementing no-selfie zones, though as the Guardian noted in 2016, if no one is around to enforce the restrictions many people may simply ignore signs warning them of the risks. Other steps could include new rules, controlling access with fences, or building safety features like railings near particular selfie-related death hotspots like the Catskills’ Kaaterskill Falls.

But there are nearly infinite places where it is ill-advised to take a selfie, and as the researchers noted in the study, the number of deaths they identified from media reports is almost certainly an undercount. So, now that you’re armed with clear evidence that this could happen to anyone, and for your own good and that of your loved ones, maybe take this as an opportunity to implement your own personal no-selfie zone around something dangerous.

[Washington Post/Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care]

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