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24/04/2019 Communication Science news and articles

Killfies: And You Thought Duckface Was Bad

With astonishing numbers in countries such as India and Russia, the ‘Killfie’ is gaining not only in popularity, but also in casualties. Why do people take such great risks for ‘just a picture’?


We’ve all seen these; great pictures taken on top of skyscrapers, at the edge of a cliff or on the railway tracks. Popularity of these adventurous selfies has been rising in the last few years, and why wouldn’t it? At the first glance, they look beautiful, even impressive, and they create an enticing aesthetic for one’s social media page. Behind the glamor and the followers, however, there is an emerging trend of killfies; people risking their life in order to get the ultimate selfie.  

The killing selfie
The term ‘killfie’ refers to a selfie taken in a dangerous, potentially deadly situation. It was coined in a research paper from 2016, “Me, Myself and My Killfie: Characterizing and Preventing Selfie Deaths”. The research team found that in the 29 months between March 2014 and September 2016, 127 people died when trying to take a selfie. Their data also shows that this trend is not only present, but is also on the rise. In 2014, there were 15 selfie-related deaths across the world but in 2016, the number of casualties increased to 73. While the most common reason for these accidental suicides is height-related, there have been cases of drownings, car collisions, animal attacks and so on. One man even shot himself in the head when posing with his firearm.  

taking hazardous selfies put over 100 people in a hospital and 12 people died

While this has become somewhat of a global problem, certain countries have more recorded cases than others. India leads with 76 selfie-related deaths. In response, the Mumbai police established “no-selfie zones” in places they deemed potentially dangerous. In 2017, the Karnataka government launched a #selfiekills campaign in order to raise awareness about this issue. Russian government took a similar approach, releasing leaflets and guidelines for “taking safer selfies”. This initiative was started after taking hazardous selfies put over 100 people in a hospital and 12 people died, including two Russian soldiers posing with a hand grenade that exploded. The above-mentioned research team also created an app called Saftie that identifies dangerous locations around the world that are popular selfie spots. Saftie sends its users a notification if they are near such a location, to point out the potential danger.

Whether you believe that taking selfies is good and empowering or a representation of everything that is wrong with the world, I think we can all agree that a selfie is not worth dying for, no matter how epic it might be.

Why take the risk?
I know this all sounds very Black Mirror meets Dumb Ways to Die. But the fact is that this is a real problem with a very real death toll. The question is why. Why do people risk their lives to take a picture?
It might be easy to think: I would never do that! I am not that (let’s say) irresponsible! But we cannot deny the significant role social media have in peoples’, especially young peoples’ lives. Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and countless other platforms are used daily for communication, entertainment or simply for passing time. Social networking sites not only provide a space for its users to share their reality, they also offer an opportunity to make that reality look better than it actually is. Users can edit their posts, messages and photos to make their profiles, and by extension themselves, look how they want to be seen. I would argue that it is this desire to create a positive self-image on social media, stemming from the need to be liked, that compels people to take killfies. Whether you believe that taking selfies is good and empowering or a representation of everything that is wrong with the world, I think we can all agree that a selfie is not worth dying for, no matter how epic it might be. The victims of this trend did not risk their lives for the experience or for the adrenaline rush, they did it with the intention to take a picture of themselves and post it on social media. They lost their lives trying to prove just how alive they were.

Cover: Pexels /  Final Editor: Ivo Martens

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