Social Media Addiction: Rising Selfie Death Toll Leads Experts To Public Health Issue | United States

A yellow fever vaccine and a few malaria tablets were standard precautions for tourists traveling to certain places. But in the smartphone age, avoiding taking selfies in death-defying places, no matter how spectacular, can now be added to the list.

A study by the Spanish Foundation iO, which specializes in tropical diseases, found that between January 2008 and July 2021 at least 379 people – one in 13 days on average – were killed in this way. It’s a growing trend, which after a brief hiatus from the coronavirus pandemic resurfaced in the first seven months of this year, in which there were 31 fatal crashes – one per week – despite numerous restrictions. still in effect. place all over the world.

“It is a growing problem which, because of the dimensions it has taken, can now be considered a public health problem. The study helped us to put it in context and it is the first step towards taking preventive measures, ”said Manuel Linares Rufo, president of the iO Foundation and principal investigator on the report, the largest of its kind carried out. nowadays. Tourists were responsible for 141 deaths during the period under investigation, compared to 238 deaths among local residents. This shows that the tendency to take risks is much higher among the former, considering that only a tiny fraction of the world’s population is traveling at any given time.

The countries with the highest number of reported deaths are India (100), the United States (39) and Russia (33), which topped a list of more than 50 nations. Spain, with 15 deaths, is sixth alongside Australia. The authors of the report, which will be published shortly in the Travel Medicine Journal, also compiled data on the 10 deadliest places on Earth for selfie hunters, although this was not included in the final text. These are, without being classified in terms of death toll: Niagara Falls (USA / Canada), Glen Canyon (USA), Charco del Burro (Colombia), Penha Beach (Brazil), Mlango Falls (Kenya), the mountains of the ‘Urals (Russia), Taj Mahal and Doodhpathri Valley (India), Nusa Lembongan Island (Indonesia) and Langkawi Archipelago (Malaysia).

Despite these numbers, the study collects only the most visible part of the problem due to its limitations. The data was compiled using an epidemiological intelligence tool known as Project Heimdllr, which combs through all available published information such as official reports and statements, in six widely used languages: English , Spanish, French, German, Portuguese and Italian. This method therefore does not record cases that are not publicized and those that have only been published in other languages. The study also does not include the large number of serious accidents that did not result in death.

Accidents in places such as waterfalls, cliffs and rooftops were by far the most common cause of a wanted selfie ending in tragedy, with 216 fatalities recorded. This is followed by transport-related accidents (123), drownings (66), firearms and electrocution (24 each), and injuries caused by wildlife (17). By age group, deaths were most common among those 19 and under (41% of total) and those in their 20s (37%) – the mean age of deaths in the study is 24.4 – while the ratio of men to women was three to two.

Instagrammer Gigi Wu rose to fame for posing in a bikini on Taiwanese mountain peaks, until her death in 2019 in one of her quests for a popular photo.Instagram

Media reports on this issue have had a significant impact in recent years, especially when the victim is well known on social media. One of the most recent cases involved an influencer named Sophia Cheung, 32, who was famous for posting photos taken in extremely dangerous places. Cheung died in July after slipping and falling from a waterfall in Hong Kong. The last known case in Spain is even more recent and, as such, is not included in the iO study. It took place on September 14 in the Mediterranean resort of Benidorm, where a Ukrainian tourist fell from a height of 30 meters from the viewpoint of the castle in the old town. Other recent incidents in Spain include a 24-year-old Norwegian who fell from a ninth-floor balcony in Marbella in May, a 28-year-old woman who fell from a Barcelona roof in November 2020 and a teenager from 14 years old. which fell from a skylight in Madrid last March.

“The idea to do the study arose when we saw the noticeable impact of the news of these deaths and the lack of perception of the problem in the scientific literature and in the recommendations of travel medicine,” says Linares Rufo. . “To some extent, the study grew out of the pandemic. Due to the coronavirus, many tools have been developed that we can now use to study phenomena like this and help deal with it. One option is to identify the most dangerous places and issue warnings to people who visit them, which should also involve cell phone manufacturers, application programmers and others. [social media] administrators. At the local level, training programs should be organized, ”adds the researcher.

Benidorm City Hall has already started to take action. “This is something that became more visible after what happened in September, but we were already working on it,” a local government spokesperson said. “Local police include patrolling the most sensitive places in their daily safety briefings and even use drones to keep tabs on the most visited places. Now we want to see how to introduce this issue in the speeches that the police give in the schools to make understand the importance of avoiding this kind of behavior. In India, the growing number of deaths among selfie hunters has led some areas to be declared “selfie-free areas”.

Liliana Arroyo, doctor of sociology and author of a book on the subject, points out that selfies, like social networks, “have become another form of relationship and social communication which, in the vast majority of cases, is a healthy self-expression which can be very creative, as well as a way to share interests and concerns.

To understand how this innocuous way of relating to others can lead to risky behavior, Arroyo sets out some conditioning factors. “Social networks reward the most extreme content, because they work on dynamics where this kind of content allows them to attract more attention. The price for taking a very risky selfie is social status and it gives you an adrenaline rush for every “like” you receive. This in turn leads some people who need this social validation to seek out new ways to test the limits and seek additional reward, and this is where the ability of people to weigh whether the reward is worth the risk or no.

Psychiatrist Enrique García Bernardo places the increase in selfie deaths in a global phenomenon in which social networks have played an important role. “These images have become a quick way to get immediate, easy and superficial recognition. What matters most are the followers and the “likes”, not the achievement itself. It is a social reaffirmation mechanism that has become widespread in recent years. Given this, some people are more inclined to engage in risky behaviors. According to the categories related to temperament defined by [American psychiatrist] Robert Cloninger, these are the people who tend to seek new thrills and whose behavior is less conditioned to avoid evil.

Taking the most dangerous selfie isn’t the only risk some people are willing to take. Gigi Wu, a Taiwanese mountaineer, rose to fame for her hobby of climbing mountains in bikinis and taking photos of often snow-capped peaks in a series of striking poses. She died in 2019 when she fell into a ravine, although it wasn’t the fall that killed her. She sustained injuries to both legs and was unable to move, but was able to call emergency services. By the time rescuers found her, she had died of hypothermia due to a lack of suitable clothing for the cold.

About Norma Wade

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