The very first selfie is believed to be a photograph of Robert Cornelius in October 1839.

He stood in his family’s backyard to snap the self-portrait, which in that day meant holding very still and facing the camera with a rigid posture for anywhere between three and fifteen minutes, depending on the available light. Even then, there was no guarantee that the photo would develop correctly, be framed around the subject in the right way, or even survive the test of time. (Spoiler alert: it did, and it’s a pretty neat photo!)

The technology behind photographs has come along way since then, but the fascination with taking our own pictures has only gotten stronger. Now, selfies even have their own holiday—National Selfie Day on June 21—in spite of the millions of people who celebrate the occasion on a daily basis.

The purpose in a selfie can range from harmless fun to serious work (like submitting a headshot when a potential employer emails you), but no matter why you do it, there are some important physical, emotional and privacy safety concerns to keep in mind:

1. Physical Danger – It might seem like a bit of funny satire, but there have literally been safety manuals written on how to take a “safe selfie.” The Russian government released its top ten safe selfie tips quite some time ago, including important hints like don’t take a selfie while leaning off a bridge or skyscraper and don’t walk out into traffic while taking a selfie. Before you scoff, remember that Yellowstone National Park has to remind visitors which places within the park are safe or unsafe for a selfie!

2. Emotional Safety – If social media has taught us anything, it’s that bullies and trolls can strike at any time. Some reports show that selfies can be addictive and can place too much emphasis on cultivating our outward appearance. It’s safe to assume that most selfies uploaded to sites like Facebook and Instagram probably get the same response: “soooo cute, luv u!” Unfortunately, selfies have also been known to lead to extreme cases of bullying. A simple celebratory post from your teen that says, “So excited to finally have my braces off!” can be met with derogatory comments like, “Yay, now lose 50lbs and you might look halfway decent.” While these comments are sadly not limited to callous teenagers, they are quite likely to be victims. It’s important to talk to your teens and tweens about what’s safe to post, what privacy settings to enable and what to do if someone engages in this way.

3. Privacy Control – Now we get to the real problem with selfies, namely, your privacy. There are quite a few privacy concerns you should be aware of before posting that image. Facial recognition from platforms where uploading photos area major issue, as is government data collection for “faceprint ID.” Some sites are finally giving users control over whether or not they can store and tag faces, but it’s not widespread for every platform. Reuse and altering of shared photos online is another key concern, as is geotagging of your photos with precise coordinates to the location of the photo.

Celebrate your confident, happy, best-face-forward self with a snapshot if you choose, but remember to keep all of your safety considerations at the forefront of anything you share or post online. Say cheese!


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