Controversial Selfies and the Media Landscape of 2013

I was listening to a podcast episode recently about influencers and the trajectory that the concept has taken over the past 2 decades- I definitely recommend listening to it it’s really interesting. One of the topics they mention briefly is the media storm around the popularity of the selfie about a decade ago. I was surprised to hear about the amount of outrage that it caused. I remember the kind of all-encompassing misogynistic vibe around women’s obsession with taking photos of themselves when I was in middle school, but today they’re such an unremarkable part of everyday life that I find it hard to square the action of taking a selfie with controversy or widespread debate.

The concept of taking photos of yourself is something people did long before 2013 when selfie was chosen as word of the year by the Oxford University Press. By that point, selfies had already gone through a round of being trendy on MySpace before being considered gauche. In 2010, though, the iPhone 4 was released with a front-facing camera allowing for easy selfie access. This converged with the increasing popularity of social media sites like Snapchat and Instagram to put selfies back on trend. It’s hard to believe with the state of social media now, but 20 years ago when something or someone went viral it was still rare and noteworthy enough to be all anyone talked about for two weeks. This is the treatment several notable selfies got. Here are a couple that I had either forgotten or just found out about.

Fans Are Having a Blast Taking Some Selfies

This video of Baseball commentators mocking young women in the crowd for taking selfies seems absurd in the context of 2023. Comments on the video complain about how narcissistic and stupid these women must be and how they’re wasting their privileged position of seeing a Baseball game live in person by being on their phones. They went on Ellen soon after (as most people who went viral in the early 2010s did) where they explained that they got free tickets to another Baseball game in apology. The Sorority Selfie Girls as they were called gave these tickets to families that had been victims of domestic abuse- a complete 2010s viral news cycle.


I actually found out about this one reading a gossip column about the selfie Barack Obama took with the British and Danish prime ministers at Nelson Mandela’s memorial that apparently Michelle was not happy about. This was a Tumblr page where selfies people took at or before funerals were posted for people to laugh at the self obsessed. Social media handles are blocked out but all faces remain completely visible. Obviously, taking a selfie at a funeral is not the most tasteful thing one can do. Something about the gimmick of this page though, putting people on blast for a massive audience when ultimately I don’t think a funeral selfie does that much harm leaves a bitter taste in my mouth. It’s not by any means comparable to the hate train that the Selfie Sorority Girls got, but it also shows the framing of selfies at the time as a spectacle done for vanity and attention rather than how I think of them now which is more along the lines of just documenting everyday life. This account was established enough that the person who runs it was able to write an article for The Guardian about the previously mentioned Obama funeral selfie after which he stopped posting to selfiesatfunerals, claiming, “Our work here is done.”

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2013 to 2023

I found it beyond interesting how quickly we’ve gone from the era of viral sensations being featured on talkshows and gimmick account owners writing for established newspapers to the reality of today where thousands of people go viral every day to little fanfare. It’s a common joke on Twitter that the goal of the website is to avoid being the main character of the day- it’s implied that there’s a solid chance of this happening at any given time. In 2013, going viral for a selfie meant widespread vitriolic misogyny but, you know, you also got 10,000 dollars from Ellen if you happened to be vindicated.