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HK Magazine Archive

Hong Kong Selfie Deaths 'a Matter of Time'

There have so far been 49 victims of selfie deaths worldwide.

PUBLISHED : Monday, 29 February, 2016, 4:08pm
UPDATED : Wednesday, 19 October, 2016, 4:58pm

To all those addicted to posting photos on social media, what are the extreme lengths you’d go to in order to snap the perfect selfie? For 49 people between 2014 and January this year, their attempts at taking daring selfies cost them their lives, according to Priceonomics.

In 2015 alone, more people died from selfies than shark attacks around the world. Fueled by a combination of “self-obsession and reckless abandon,” the pursuit of a perfect daredevil post has motivated people to snap selfies while perched on tops of buildings and bridges, plummeting to their deaths. In some cases, selfies have caused individuals to be distracted from oncoming traffic or to lose control of the vehicle they’re driving.

Of the 49 victims reported so far, one was reported to have taken place in China. Yet, are Hong Kong’s selfie-takers at risk as well to be added on the selfie death toll?

“It’s a busy city, it’s only a matter of time,” Jeffrey Herbert, a former police superintendent and now internet securities expert, tells HK Magazine. “There’s always going to be people not paying attention to traffic, looking at their phones… things don’t get monitored until it’s perceived to be a problem.”

A veteran traffic police officer, who did not wish to be named, tells us, “There haven’t been any confirmed cases, but that’s not to say they’re not happening.” He points out that there’s a prevalence of pedestrian-related accidents, where people aren’t paying attention to their surroundings, rather than selfie-related accidents. “People are controlled by their phones and social media, and they lose their spatial awareness when they’re on their phone. That’s why they’re walking into people and walking into lamp posts.”

“Given Hong Kong’s urban architecture, perhaps we’re less likely to experience [cases of selfie deaths]—if you’re taking a selfie, you’re not going to take it in the middle of Nathan Road, it would be on a quiet road and a car suddenly turns in, but there aren’t many quiet areas in Hong Kong,” he says.

“People are controlled by their phones and social media, and they lose their spatial awareness when they’re on their phone.” —Police source

Priceonomics also reported that the average age of fatalities was 21, and with 75 percent of victims to be male, even though women take “significantly more selfies than men.”

Researchers at Ohio State University found that men who posted a lot of selfies scored higher on traits of “narcissism,” “self-objectivity” and “psychopathy”—a trait inherently characterized by impulsivity—explaining why victims ignore potential safety risks in hopes of gaining validation online.

Alarmingly, 40 percent of selfie fatality victims were found to have been from India, which Priceonomics reported is irrelevant to the country’s high population, seeing as China’s only reported one death so far. It’s in the way people are taking selfies, with the data service company highlighting India’s overwhelmingly high drowning fatality rate—86,000 deaths per year, which is 20 percent of total drowning deaths worldwide. In one tragic incident last March, seven teenagers drowned on a lake in Nagpur, India, after standing up for a selfie and capsizing their boat.

Daniel Lau, who posted a viral video of himself and two friends perched next to the lightning rod on top of The Centre last year, explains to HK Magazine that his motivation behind his photography is not to show off his daredevil prowess.

“I picked up a camera to take a different perspective of Hong Kong… At a distance from the ground, everything seems to be in slow motion. You get a special, meditative feeling.” He adds, “I don’t consider myself to be a daredevil. I only know that I was not afraid of heights after I posted my first picture. I do it to share my perspective and a different way of seeing the city.”

Armed with his go-pro and selfie stick, which he claims allows for a wider angle “to give a sense of presence, as if people are joining me to see the city,” the local photographer stresses the importance of safety, and knowing your limits. “If you’re just trying to show off, there’s many ways to do it, no need to risk your life,” Lau says.

He advises: “Don’t try to get stunning images that you can’t handle. And think of doing something new. Start your own trend.”

The selfie backdrops in Hong Kong that could be the most dangerous include tall buildings and “anything involving alcohol,” the police source says. “But selfie deaths are no more likely than anywhere else in the world. Hong Kong people are just as addicted to their phones as people in the UK or Abu Dhabi.”