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Deadly Selfies?

A story has been making the rounds lately about selfie sticks being more deadly than sharks. Several internet sites have picked up on the story, from the New York Post to the Huffington Post and many more. The origin of this story is apparently an article by Calder Quinn and Brad Rickman for Condé Nast Traveler, detailing a number of gruesome and fatal accidents that occurred while the person was distracted trying to get a self-photo.

Deaths from bridge falls, hand grenade explosions, shots to the head, bison gorings — it's been enough that the European Union, in June, actually proposed the criminalization of certain types of selfies: namely, those containing landmarks like the Eiffel Tower or Rome's Trevi Fountain.

Quinn and Rickman leave readers with this warning:

So, yes: sharks are scary. But (as some of us have been saying) the selfie stick is your real enemy. Beware.

And yet, something doesn't add up. First of all, that E.U. law banning selfies in from of the Eiffel Tower has nothing to do with public safety, and everything to do with copyright law run amok.

In France there is no general freedom of panorama. For example, images of the Eiffel Tower illuminated at night are protected by copyright, and photos of it can be published only with permission. In neighboring Belgium, permission is required to publish pictures of the Atomium sculpture, a Brussels landmark.

The law would affect all photographs, not just selfies. Professional photographers would not be able to take pictures of the Eiffel Tower or other landmarks without gaining a permit from the copyright holder.

The German photographers’ association Freelens says getting a permit for every photograph is an "impossible endeavor." On its website, Freelens wrote, "This could spell the end of professional photography in public space."

Contrary to the assertions of Quinn and Rickman, the E.U. is not worried about the safety of selfie sticks.

But that's not the only problem with the story. Some of the dangers Quinn and Rickman list—shots to the head and bison gorings, for example—have nothing to do with the fact that the person was holding a selfie stick at the time. A person can get gored by a bison while reading a text message, birdwatching, or simply standing in a pasture. Getting shot in the head is the result of being in the wrong place at the wrong time, whether holding a selfie stick or not.

In most fatal accidents involving a selfie stick, in other words, the selfie stick is incidental to the cause of the fatality.

In an encounter with a shark, on the other hand, the fatality can virtually alwyas be attributed to the shark attack itself. Calculating selfie stick deaths in comparison with shark attacks makes no sense.

The Condé Nast story may give a sense of schadenfreude to those of us who have never cared for selfies and don't see the value in them; if that's what the writers were going for, I'm sure they succeeded. If it was intended as journalism, on the other hand, the story is—as the kids say today—an epic fail.

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