The Hashtag Should Be #StupidSelfie

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Lockdown SelfieHouston, we have a selfie.

NASA selfieSelfie (N)- A photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically one taken with a smartphone or webcam and shared via social media.

The word “selfie” is becoming more commonplace every day. The fad of taking pictures of oneself is not going anywhere anytime soon, especially after the Oxford English Dictionary added it to its repertoire of definitions. According to the Pew Research Center, 31 million Instagram photos have been hashtagged “#selfie” and 91 percent of teenagers have posted a photo of themselves online.

Ellen SelfieOn December 24, 2013, astronaut Mike Hopkins, Expedition 38 Flight Engineer, snapped quite possibly the most unique, jaw-dropping selfie of all time.

Who could forget Ellen DeGeneres’ Oscar selfie with Jennifer Lawrence, Brad Pitt, Julia Roberts and others.This selfie garnered more than 1 million retweets in just 45 minutes (a great investment by Samsung), according to Mashable.

Selfie Extremists  

Smart phone cameras and the use of peripheral tools, such as selfie sticks and gopros, have become so sophisticated they have made “selfie” taking easier, and have given rise to a new breed of selfies, otherwise known as selfie extremism.

With the permission of Brazil’s tourism board, Briton Lee Thompson climbed to the top of Rio’s Christ the Redeemer statue to capture a breath-taking photo.

“To some, taking pictures of yourself is considered vain, but this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity taught me that the selfie is a powerful medium through which we can share our perspectives, inspirations and personal stories with the world at large.”-Britton

Epic selfie

The list of dare devilish selfies is extensive.

Not all selfie extremists gain permission to take their daring photos, and some result in fines or injuries. In July 2014, a man participating in Spain’s annual running of the bulls snapped a photo within inches of the animal. In addition to the danger of taking a selfie in an already dangerous activity, the act was illegal. Earlier this year, Spain passed a law to restrict filming during similar events. The man in the photograph faced a fine of up to $2,050. Others have put themselves and others at risk by posing alongside athletes riding the Tour de France.

A less physical, yet just as illegal type of selfie, is one taken at the voting polls. In most states, it is illegal to take a photo in the voting booth and share it online. The hashtag #votingselfie was used abundantly this past November.

Add to that, people taking selfies while operating a variety of vehicles; this includes cars, motorcycles, boats and even airplanes. The hashtag #drivingselfie is popular on Instagram. As of December 2, 2014, the hashtag yielded more than 20,000 results. Its plural version #drivingselfies contains nearly 5,000 photos while #drivinghome provides a staggering 80,462 results.

“Taking a photo of yourself while you’re driving a 2,000-pound vehicle down the road at 50 or 60 miles per hour? That is putting your life in danger and putting the lives of those around you in danger,” Running-Bulls-Selfie-Spainsaid Jackie Gillan, president of Advocates for Highway and Auto Safety. There is a movement afoot to discourage this behavior led by celebrities such as Demi Lovato; social media users are encouraged to post or text the hashtag #X to inform their friends and followers that they will be driving and not using their phone.

One of the more frightening selfies to date involved three teens in Hong Kong who illegally recorded a video selfie atop The Center building, a 1,135 foot skyscraper. The videographer used a selfie stick and a wide-angle lens on his camera to film the video.

Parents and educators have worked to coach students as to the dangers relating to selfies that contain nudity: If the person who took the selfie and/or the recipient(s) are underage, it is distribution of child pornography and carries a sentence of up to 30 years in a maximum prison in certain states.

Lockdown Selfies    

Lockdowns occur when there is a perceived or real threat to a facility and those who are inside and drills are regularly scheduled in both school and workplace environments. During a lockdown –  drill or actual event – a variety of instructions may be communicated via loudspeaker, device text, lighting cues and other means. Persons in lockdown must be focused and aware of their surroundings and ready CCS lockdown selfieto take action as instructed.

Firestorm has observed a growing, potentially dangerous trend during these high-risk situations; the lockdown selfie. We have monitored – in both drill and actual emergencies – #lockdownselfies on Twitter, Instagram and various other social media sites.

“Over the last year, users have been sharing lockdown selfies on Instagram and Twitter. They appear every time there’s a shooting or a school goes into lockdown over a potential bomb threat or gunman.”

Ryan Broderick, Buzzfeed 2013

As an example, in November 2013 numerous students at Central Connecticut State University posted selfies during a lockdown while an armed intruder was roaming campus.

  1. Those who post to social media during lockdowns are distracted from potential dangers. If it is a high-risk situation, students, who are online, will not be prepared to act if needed.Geo risk
  2. By posting to social media, people who are in lockdown are broadcasting their exact location and that of others across the Internet. If it is not a drill, the dangers multiply. Armed intruders, who have access to the Internet, will know exactly where potential targets are based on geolocation and tweetmaps. If a selfie is uploaded, the background of the image can lead intruders to that specific area if they are familiar with the building. An example of this risk comes from the University of Rhode Island lockdown in 2013. In the middle of the lockdown, a Rhode Island newspaper published a “Twitter Map” (see image right) on their website. It was shared multiple times via Twitter and Facebook. This was a map of named tweets with exact location information of those locked down on the URI campus. Those commenting on the post via the integrated Facebook commenting feature immediately voiced concern that this type of posting was not only not newsworthy, but irresponsible in that it put the individual students at risk by broadcasting their locations. One concerned individual, close by the newspaper’s location, went so far as to visit the publication and request removal of the page. This request was denied.
  3. Posting to social media during high-risk situations can be detrimental to everyone in the situation for years to come. The tweets, posts and media interviews from that day will become a point of future reference for weeks, months and years. People in the situation will be remembered for what they posted and said during those critical moments.

Lockdowns are a time for focus and situational awareness.


For all of us, whether business owners, school officials, employees, or community leaders and members, we have a responsibility to act with care when lives are at risk.

We know that social communication has great benefits in a crisis. It can:

  • Through monitoring, Predict crises
  • Increase immediate access to audiences who need information
  • Foster accurate dialogue with employees, community, partners and stakeholders
  • Increase the speed of information and response
  • Reach specific audiences with clear safety instructions and messaging
  • Reduce delay of information
  • Counter inaccurate information
  • Contribute to the public’s situational awareness as an emergency unfolds
  • Help first responders
  • Help connect the community after an emergency
  • Provide a way for the community to express and offer support to its members.

Yet, while social networks are beneficial in many ways, they can also be damaging. “Social network updates can feed a news-hungry audience with relevant and interesting updates, they can also breed false information,” Dave Kerpen, CEO of the social media marketing firm Likeable Media. This was demonstrated during the 2013 Boston Marathon Bombings. Both CNN and the Associated Press wrongly reported the bombing suspects were in custody prematurely. Many news channels and social media users throughout the country picked up on the incorrect information. It quickly spread across media platforms.

That said, many race attendees helped officials by providing their selfies; police and other official investigators pored through thousands of images for clues contained in the background of the images.

There’s a time and a place for posting to social media. Students, employees and all users of social media need to understand situational appropriateness, especially if it could put their lives and that of others in danger.

Read Firestorm CEO, Harry Rhulen’s point-of-view in his insight paper: The Right and Responsibility of Social Media Monitoring.

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