A 43-year-old man paid the ultimate price this week to take a selfie in Oregon. He fell over 100 feet into the ocean after a tree limb snapped underneath his weight. He was trying to get a great view for his selfie backdrop.
There were barriers in place and the internet is littered with stories of people who’ve died for the perfect photo. So, why are people still dying for social media clout and likes?
Steven Gastelum went hiking with a friend on the Devil Cauldron’s trail in the Oswald West State Park near Arch Cape, Oregon. Around mid-afternoon he crossed a barrier warning people about the danger of a steep cliff.
Gastelum climbed a tall tree to get a photo of the beautiful view but fell from the tree. Unfortunately, he was recovered from the ocean and pronounced dead at the local hospital. Sadly, Gastelum’s story isn’t unique.
Just last November, a French tourist in Thailand slipped and fell from a waterfall in Ko Samui. The 33-year-old man died in the same location that another person died just four months prior. There seems to be a pattern here – heights, slippery surfaces, and men who are willing to risk it all for a rare photo.
Is Social Media to Blame?
There are certainly a variety of factors that contribute to people dying from taking risky selfies. Both men and women have fallen victim to fatal vanity, but there is definitely a trend on display. People have placed so much value on the likes and social esteem that comes from a great photo on platforms like Facebook, Instagram and TikTok.
Pasha Petkuns is my favorite free-runner and parkour performer. He’s a professional Red Bull athlete and he has done some outrageous stunts over the years. He has over a million followers on Instagram and one of his most recent posts speaks volumes about the craze for social media stardom. It seems as if young people are willing to do just about anything for “likes” these days.
There’s actually an Instagram account called “mountain selfies”. As you can imagine, it’s full of people taking selfies at elevations that could provide a recipe for disaster. Here’s a cool guy on a mountain top.
It’s not just young people either. Gastelum, who perished in Oregon, was 43 years old. So, let’s take a closer look at the statistics surrounding this fatal phenomenon.
The Trend of Fatal Selfies
In 2018, the findings of a study on selfie deaths was published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care. From October 2011 to November 2017, there were 259 deaths while clicking selfies in 137 reported incidents.
The most striking result of the study was that 72.5% of the deaths were men. The study authors didn’t attempt to draw any conclusions about that particular finding, but most of the deaths were associated with risky behavior.
A decade ago, I was much more active in the free-running and parkour community. A friend of mine drowned while attempting to cross a river bridge using just his hands. He was trying to impress some girls that were passing in a boat, but he lost his grip and fell into the river. The fast-moving current swept him away and he drowned.
He wasn’t taking a selfie, but he was trying to impress other people with a bold, dangerous gesture. People on social media are constantly trying to one-up each other with their photos. The more dangerous the stunt, the more likes and followers a person seems to get. Or at least that’s the rationale behind risky behavior selfies.
Ways to Reduce the Trend of Fatal Selfies
The lead author of the 2018 study did offer a possible solution. The expert recommendation was for the widespread adoption of selfie-free zones. These zones would deter amateur photographers from placing their lives at risk to take the perfect photo.
However, it’s important to recall that the man who recently died in Oregon disregarded barriers to take his selfie in the tree. Barriers and warnings and selfie-free zones are only as good as the people who heed them.
In fact, the selfie-free zones might have an adverse effect by alerting people to potential sites for the best photos. Perhaps, another approach would be just as suitable. If the public began to devalue high risk photography, then fewer people would want to take those type of photos.
People should pay less attention to those attention-seeking selfies to send a clear message that the perfect snap isn’t worth a person’s life.