Selfie bans, selfie endorsements, selfie power

Everyone has at least taken one selfie. Let it be a group or a mirror one, maybe it was ironic or taken seriously, it may have boosted your confidence or made you feel like garbage, but no matter what you think of them, selfies are everywhere and can be rather powerful.

For example, companies can easily take advantage of selfies for marketing campaigns. Relevant hashtags and brands names are often printed onto mirrors in clothing shops as a marketing strategy in order to gain visibility on social media platforms when customers take mirror selfies. Selfies contests on social media are also often used as a form of endorsement. And influences are paid thousands of whatever currency for a portrait picture on their Instagram feed as long as a certain brand or product is tagged.

The obsession for selfies has also opened up new markets for all sorts of editing app, products such as selfie sticks, portable lighting tools, and even books (maybe *book – besides Kim Kardashian I don’t of anyone else with the audacity to publish a book entirely made of selfies).

This type of pictures has also led the development and popularisation of certain technological advancements such as facial recognition, accessibility to a basic versions of Deepfakes technology (think of Snapchat or Instagram filters, face swap etc) and is going as far as taking advantage of satellites. As an instance, a fairly new app called ‘Spelfie‘ now allows you to take selfies from space. To be completely honest, the purpose of it still eludes me but its development may turn out to be a great success.

Psychology studies have been conducted on selfies as they are also considered to be a good indicator of people’s personality traits. Both the person taking the picture and the receptors have been subjected to analysis. For example, it has been found a correlation between men who post selfies and narcissism (as an actual personality disorder), but such correlation is not as strong when it comes to women (P. Sorokowski et al., 2015). Instead, rather inconclusive was a study trying to decode people’s personality depending on pictures’ contextualisation (i.e. editing, pose, background, facial expression, etc). Nevertheless, significant cues related to the judgments of personality through selfies were found (Lin Qiu et al., 2015).

Something that I find quite striking about the power of selfies is their ban from certain locations and some of the reasons why this is done. Such bans show that selfies are associated with concepts and activities that are way bigger than what we may initially think of. The latest location of a long list is Kyoto (see other places here). Now, taking a selfie in parts of the Kyoto geisha neighbourhood could lead to a fine. This decision has been taken as an attempt to try to manage tourists’ bad behaviour and even ‘tourist pollution’. Does it mean that the city of Kyoto is trying to make sure tourists are more mindful when visiting or are they hoping to attract a quality of tourism that would simply be more respectful and not trash the streets? But whatever the case is, I don’t think the original intentions and aims are as important as the means. Instead of just enhancing fines for such behaviours, a selfie ban was seen as a more effective solution to implement.

All in all, I don’t think I ever acknowledge selfies anymore, with this I mean that I clearly recognise their presence and engage with them but they are so well integrated with the digital culture that I never stop and think about their role, power and use. But the more I think about them, the more I see that what my parents would simply call a ‘self-portrait’ has now been transformed into a tool capable of meaning and achieving a great variety of things.