On social media, visual-led communication has been increasing in amount. Nowadays, Facebook posts without images are becoming difficult to find. Other major digital platforms like Pinterest, Instagram or Tumblr all have their content organized around images. Image-centered mobile apps like WhatsApp or Snapchat have also been increasing in number and popularity. In line with this steeply rising significance of visuality in communication, in recent years, selfie has been a phenomenon that has both remarkably attracted public attention and sparked vigorous debates among academics. In this context, a number of researchers who try to unpack this social media phenomenon have linked it with narcissism.
Basically, a selfie is a snapshot of oneself taken by holding a camera or smartphone at arm’s length, or sometimes with the help of a selfie stick. One advantage of taking photo this way is that selfie takers are in full control of the whole process and results. People like the fact that they can decide how to frame themselves on screen and how many times to retake a selfie for the best outcomes (1). The need for flawless selfies on social media has given rise to popular use of mobile apps for instant photo editing, such as PhotoWonder or InstaMag.
Today, selfie is the most popular photo genre (5) to the extent that some even call it a “social epidemic”. According to Rawhide, an American non-profit organization offering assistance for at-risk youth, 93 million selfies were taken daily in 2015 (2). Taking selfie seems to be more prominent among young generations. 95% of adolescents had ever taken a selfie, and the amount of time every one of them spent for selfie went up to almost 7 full work days. From celebrities to “more serious” well-known people, and even the world’s political big fishes, have partaken in this “digital ritual”. On Instagram, Kim Kardashian is notorious for her selfies of flashing the flesh and in pretty much the same manner, Justin Bieber has updated countless selfies of him going topless. In 2013, a picture of Barack Obama, David Cameron and Helle Thorning-Schmidt taking a group selfie at Nelson Mandela’s memorial service went viral in cyberspace (8). Also in 2013, the Pope was captured to be taking selfie with a teenage group (6). Selfie has spread out to outer space: in 2012, a space selfie by Japanese astronaut Aki Hoshide was claimed to be the greatest selfie of all time.
It appears that everyone could be influenced by the trend. As observed, infrequent selfies are generally acceptable or can be seen as a fun activity. However, heavy exploitation of selfies has been criticized and can be associated with “social media-driven narcissism” (9). Narcissism is a personality trait characterized by grandiosity (2): a typical narcissist tends to adopt an inflated self-view, exaggerate their accomplishments, and lack empathy for others. In online environment, narcissism is reported to be associated with a desire for big audience’s attention (1). At the same time, research found out that narcissists are more likely to perform positive self-presentation on social media, where they reveal a large number of photos of themselves (11).Likewise, Rawhide suggested a number of narcissistic behaviors on social network sites, including frequent change of profile picture and oversharing of self-promotional images (2).
In their effort to examine the issues of online privacy breach faced by young people, Berriman and Thomson mapped different youth cultural positions on social media against two axes: participation and visibility (Figure 1). According to this model, active narcissistic users can be placed in the group of high visibility and high participation, the e-celeb. In fact, many famous bloggers, vloggers, Facebookers posting a high quantity of selfies can be identified with narcissistic traits. Because social media facilitate activities of self-broadcasting, they do foster narcissism. On the one hand, they function as a vehicle for already egocentric people to brag about themselves (7). On the other hand, social media use can be addictive, where self-absorption is reinforced to create narcissistic individuals, especially with flattering function like the “like” button. With regard to this, Emily Johnston, the blogger of Fashion Foie Gras (FFG) made a comment: “Before I started FFG I genuinely didn’t care how I looked in pictures. When you have hundreds of thousands of people seeing an image of you it takes on a whole new level of importance. You become self-absorbed (8).
In conclusion, today popularity of selfie is very likely to correlate with the increasing intensity of narcissism in social media environment. Although much concern and effort has been invested in analyzing these cyber phenomenons, both of them still require further examination. Probably, selfie will be a continuing trend, especially among young people. Considering Facebook’s latest mode of profile picture, where users can upload a brief video instead of an image, in the future, video selfies could possibly take over to lead online communication.
- Barry, C., T., Doucette, H., Loflin, D., C., Rivera-Hudson, N., Herrington L., L., 2015. “Let Me Take a Selfie”: Associations Between Self-Photography, Narcissism, and Self-Esteem. Psychology of Popular Media Culture.
- Cohen, D., 2016. Selfies, Narcissism and Social Media (Infographic). Adweek [online], 06 January 2016. Available from: http://www.adweek.com/socialtimes/rawhide-selfies-infographic/632428 [Accessed 07 March 2016].
- Day, E., 2013. How selfies became a global phenomenon. The Guardian [online], 14 July 2013. Available from: http://www.theguardian.com/technology/2013/jul/14/how-selfies-became-a-global-phenomenon [Accessed 07 March 2016].
- Hart, A., 2014. Generation selfie: Has posing, pouting and posting turned us all into narcissists? The Independent [online], 5 December 2014. Available from: http://www.telegraph.co.uk/women/womens-life/11265022/Selfie-obsession-are-we-the-most-narcissistic-generation-ever.html [Accessed 07 March 2016].
- Knibbs, K., 2013. Selfies are now the most popular genre of photo; in related news everyone’s the worst. Digital Trends [online], 20 June 2013. Available from: http://www.digitaltrends.com/social-media/selfies-are-now-the-most-popular-genre-of-picture-and-in-related-news-everyones-the-worst/ [Accessed 07 March 2016].
- Molloy, A., 2013. Year of the Selfie: The birth – and death – of 2013’s biggest star trend. The Independent [online], 24 December 2013. Available from: http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/news/year-of-the-selfie-the-birth-and-death-of-the-year-s-biggest-star-trend-9024534.html [Accessed 07 March 2016].
- Odell, A., 2015. What Selfies Really Say About You — and Your Friends.The Independent [online], 21 July 2015. Available from: http://www.cosmopolitan.com/lifestyle/news/a43647/what-selfies-really-say-about-you-and-your-friends/ [Accessed 07 March 2016].
- Tate, A., 2013. President Obama Selfie: Obama Takes Photo During Nelson Mandela Memorial Service In South Africa. International Business Times [online], 10 December 2013. Available from: http://www.ibtimes.com/president-obama-selfie-obama-takes-photo-during-nelson-mandela-memorial-service-south-africa-photo [Accessed 07 March 2016].
- Weiser, E., B., 2015. #Me: Narcissism and its facets as predictors of selfie-posting frequency. Personality and Individual Differences, 86. 477–481
- Berriman, L., and Thomson, R., 2015. Spectacles of intimacy? Mapping the morallandscape of teenage social media. Journal of Youth Studies, 18 (5), 583–597