After a man scaling the shard with zero protective equipment recently made worldwide news, we ask whether the culture of putting yourself in danger ‘for the gram’ should be put to bed.
Early Monday morning whilst you were tucked up safely in bed, urban climber George King, 19, decided it would be a really good idea to free climb the tallest building in London. At 5:15 am King began his ascent of The Shard skyscraper, which he completed in 45 minutes with no suction cups, ropes, or protective gear.
Surprisingly, after making his descent King was not arrested by London police. Speaking to the Mail Online, he stated that climbing The Shard was a ‘godlike’ feeling. He added that he’d ‘done a lot of preparation for this’. King has since posted a video of his climb on to Instagram, his caption biting back at criticism that his actions were reckless.
King defends a trend (or ‘artform’, as those who engage in it would argue) that has been gaining traction on social media for a while now – people posting videos or selfies of themselves in dangerous situations. The trend is particularly prevalent in India, Russia, and the US, and has been turned into a lucrative profession by a select few.
However, as the number of selfie-related deaths continues to increase, many are beginning to wonder whether King and his contemporaries should face harsher repercussions for their actions in order to discourage imitation, and whether social media platforms should regulate the kinds of stunts they feature.
The lure of danger
Social media daredevil-ism began with the trend of ‘rooftopping’, which involves climbing severe heights and posting pictures taken from tall buildings, typically with ones legs dangling in open air.
As rooftopping gained traction, a new generation of Instagrammers, YouTubers, and members of other networks emerged. These creators cultivated the art of risking life and limb to produce heart-pounding photos and videos. The content became so popular that the influencers were able to monetise their content and strike brand deals. As risking your life for likes became a legitimate vocational goal, more and more daredevil channels began to spring up.
The stunts you can see performed for the internet’s benefit take many forms: posing on high cliffs or buildings; reckless activity on, in, or near trains, cars, or motorcycles; interactions with wild animals; extreme eating, and more methods of putting yourself in harms way.
It’s easy to dismiss the trend as youthful folly. But, the thing is, some of the images these people capture are undeniably breath-taking. The photos and videos on Russian model Angel Nikolau’s Instagram feed, for example, are stunning in part because of the danger.
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ДАРИМ 6 НОВОГОДНИХ БЬЮТИ-БОКСОВ🎁 Твои любимые блогеры объединились, чтобы подарить тебе подарки💝 Мы собрали для вас самые лучшие уходовые средства, которыми пользуемся сами💥 Для участия нужно быть подписанным на: @katyushka_tyan @ylifit @yana_leventseva @angela_nikolau @ksubones @_mariapark_ ✔️Отлайкать 5 моих последних постов; ✔️В комментариях под этим постом написать: «ХОЧУ БОКС» и отметить любимого блогера из моих подписок♥️ ‼️Если хочешь получить мой Бьюти-бокс, то ставь мне 5 лайков на последние фотки и будь подписана на моих подруг из раздела «подписки»😛 Оставляй комментарии у блогеров, чтобы увеличить свои шансы на победу🎁 Результаты розыгрыша: 28.12.2019 С наступающим Новым годом, котятки🎄 Всем удачи😛♥️
Like Nikolau, many of these social media risk takers are skilful and well-practised. The real harm often comes when the average joe tries to imitate them.
Imitation is the highest form of flattery
A study published in the Journal of Family Medicine and Primary Care found that some 259 people died taking selfies between October 2011 and November 2017. Such a figure would’ve been hard to quantify, and it’s likely that the actual number is much higher.
As Psychologist and Author Tracy P. Alloway told the publication Fast Company, it’s notable that most of the figures featured in the report were not influencers, or even habitual social media users. They were people who happened to be killed whilst taking a selfie or modelling for a photo in unusual circumstances.
YouTube and other social media sites have witnessed an upsurge of dangerous ‘challenges’ since 2014, including the ‘fire challenge’ (where people literally set themselves on fire), the infamous ‘tide pod’ challenge, and more.
Other social media-driven stunts include dangerous driving or riding a bike or motorcycle; climbing on or touching power lines; posing on railroad tracks; posing with guns, grenades, or other weapons; and posing on beaches or on rocks with large waves.
A large motivating force behind the creation of such risky content is that it tends to garner predominantly positive feedback. British YouTuber Jay Swingler performed a dangerous stunt last year whereby he glued his head to the inside of a microwave oven. It took a team of paramedics to set him free. This genius was rewarded with 70,000 new subscribers over the three days after posting, and today channel boasts four and a half million devotees.
There’s something to be said for being part of an ‘edgy’ or ground-breaking subculture. The exclusive allure of this ‘near-death club’ is given an extra layer of distinction, and an aesthetic, by brands like Breach Apparel, who advertise their product with models posing on rooftops and from precarious situations.