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More than 90 people die annually in selfie-related deaths, study finds

By comparison, five people died from shark attacks in 2017.

Tourists pose for a group selfie
Tourists pose for a group selfie at the police cordon on Westminster Bridge after a car crashed outside the Houses of Parliament in an act of terrorism in London, August 14, 2018.
REUTERS/Andrew Marshall

In May, a man visiting a park in eastern India was mauled to death by a bear while trying to take a selfie with the wounded animal.

In June, a British man and an Australian woman fell to their deaths while taking a selfie atop a cliff overlooking a popular Portuguese beach.

In July, a Houston teenager died after she shot herself in the head while taking a series of selfies with a loaded gun.

In September, a young California woman died after falling into Lake Superior from a 200-foot-cliff on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula while positioning herself for a selfie.

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Selfie-related deaths have been in the headlines with some regularity in recent years. And although these kinds of deaths remain rare, they have become “an emerging problem,” according to research published recently in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care.

The study, conducted by researchers at the All India Institute of Medical Sciences in New Delhi, found that 259 people died between 2011 and 2017 while taking selfies.

But that number is “just the tip of the iceberg,” say the study’s authors, because such deaths are underreported and often attributed to other causes.

The study also made the disturbing finding that selfie deaths are becoming more common, increasing from three in 2011 to 93 in 2017.

By comparison, five people died from shark attacks in 2017.

Study details

For their study, the All India Institute researchers searched English-language newspapers around the world, using key words such as “selfie deaths” and “selfie accidents.”

As the study explains, selfie (which was Oxford Dictionaries “word of the year” in 2013) is “a photograph that a person takes of himself (or group) typically using a smartphone likely for the purpose of sharing in social media.”

Of the 259 selfie-related deaths the search identified, more than half — 159 — occurred in India, followed by Russia (16), the United States (14) and Pakistan (11).

The most common type of death was drowning (70 deaths), which often occurred after the selfie-taker was washed away by waves on a beach or capsized a boat. Next were “transport” deaths (51), which most frequently happened when someone was taking a selfie too close to a moving train.

Those were followed by deaths from falls (48), fires (48), firearms (11), animals (8) and “other” (7).

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Most of the firearm-related selfie deaths occurred in the U.S., the report notes.

The study also found that the people who died while taking selfies were overwhelmingly male (about 72 percent) and under the age of 30 (86 percent).

Both men and young adults, the study notes, were more likely to have died while engaging in a particularly risky selfie-taking situation — such as standing on the edge of a cliff or venturing close to a wild lion, elephant or other animal.

Needed: no-selfie zones

The exponential rise in selfie deaths is due to “increased usage of mobile phones, enhanced selfie features on mobile phones, increased availability of selfie sticks, and also promotion of the phenomenon of selfies through events like ‘best selfie prize,’ the study’s authors write.

To counter that trend, the researchers conclude, “‘no selfie zones’ areas should be declared across tourist areas, especially places such as water bodies, mountain peaks, and over tall buildings to decrease the incidence of selfie-related deaths.”

“Selfies are themselves not harmful, but the human behavior that accompanies selfies is dangerous,” they stress. “Individuals need to be educated regarding certain risky behaviors and risky places where selfies should not be taken.”

For more information: You can read the study in full on the website of the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care, which is the official journal of the Academy of Family Physicians of India.