Two deaths, two days apart. All four of those involved wanted to snap a ‘selfie’ on the railway tracks, oblivious to the oncoming train. Earlier this week two brothers attempted to take a selfie while standing on a scenic spot of the railway tracks between Colpetty and Bambalapitiya.
The residents of Anuradhapura were 24 and 12 years of age at the time of the tragedy. Police say the boys were so busy trying to take a selfie they had not noticed the oncoming express train from Maradana bound for Aluthgama. This was however not an isolated incident.
A 24-year-old groom was killed and his wife was critically injured when they too were hit by a train while trying to take a selfie on the railway tracks at Kahawa in Uduwaragoda area in Ambalangoda. Police said the couple who were residing in Maharagama was knocked down by a Galle bound train. Onlookers reportedly warned the couple of the oncoming train but they also noted that the couple ignored those warnings from passersby.
Last year, another story that made headlines was the death of the Chinese national, 24-year old Chen Ya Shi who was seated on the footboard of an express train which was plying from Galle to Maradana. She was attempting to take a selfie with a friend who had been inside the compartment. Little did she know that the platform was the same height as the footboard and that she would be dragged away when the train cruised past it. Station Master Manikku Badduge told the police at the time that this was the second incident he had witnessed of a person getting killed while trying to take a selfie on a railway track.
The frequent deaths in the smartphone age draws attention to the extremes one would go to for the sake of self-aggrandizement. A study found that nearly 127 people worldwide have died between the year 2014 and 2016 with 76 of them being Indians.
“In India, a number of deaths occurred when friends or lovers posed on railroad tracks, which is widely regarded as a symbol of long-term commitment in that culture,” Carnegie Mellon reported. “Gun-related deaths in selfies occurred only in the US and Russia. Road and vehicle-related selfies and animal-related selfies also were associated with deaths.”
The problem is so bad in Russia that the Moscow Government has issued a guide to safe selfie-taking. The campaign has the theme ‘Your health and your life aren’t worth risking for a million likes.’
Dr. Praneeth Abeysundara of the Department of Sociology and Anthropology, University of Sri Jayewardenepura commenting on ‘selfie deaths’ said that individuals were too obsessed with their own image that it has become an obsession. He added that individualism is ever present than before and it keeps getting worse.
Prompted by the string of deaths, railway authorities will begin a crackdown on those taking selfies on railway tracks starting this week. Railway spokesperson Wijeya Samarasinghe said that mobile phones accounted for most of the 28 deaths on Sri Lankan railways thus far.
“We are launching a campaign this week by deploying our security staff to arrest those walking or taking selfies on the railway tracks or in front of moving trains,” he had told AFP. He cited that many are unable to get out of the way in time which results in their untimely deaths.
Is Social Media taking it too far by sensationalizing the sordid details? How often do you say what you feel online? Do you leap into arguments counterpoints flying or do you tend to think ‘oh what’s the point’ and console yourself with the reminder that discretion is the better part of valor.
Over the last two weeks, we chanced upon several instances where social media posts were at times mediocre or simply cringe worthy. Among them were the photographs that were circulating of a girl who had committed suicide by jumping in front of a train, the stories that circulated about the boys who had died while attempting to take a selfie. How many times have we watched graphic videos of traffic accidents and shared them? One wonders if social media is taking it too far.
It goes without saying that social media platforms dominate today’s information ecosystem. News sites and social platforms also have a symbiotic relationship with each looking to the other to boost traffic or business. As this relationship strengthens, social media content regulations will increasingly affect what is published.
Kumar Lopez, an advocate of responsible media reporting and someone who monitors social media says it’s not pragmatic to ‘police social media’. “It is a domain without boundaries or control,” he says. “Governments around the world have taken several measures to censor content but while they can ban or control the platform, you can’t control what individuals do or say on those platforms.”
Referring to the barrage of comments that were made during the last few weeks on some of the notable tragic incidents, he said some of those comments also have an emotional connation, which cannot be censored in any way or form.
“Overall, you find that people display a lack of clarity between what they deem as a person’s private life or public life, the knowledge and capacity is at varying levels and the only way to strike a chord is through awareness.”
Currently, print media in Sri Lanka is governed by a Code of Professional Practice. The online editions of the print media are also governed by the code known as, the Editor’s Code, while the Press Complaints Commission of Sri Lanka implements the Code on behalf of the Editor’s Guild of Sri Lanka.
Death by Selfie
Our need to capture the present moment via social media has completely changed the way we experience life, and a tragic irony presents itself when that results in death. From falling down the steps of the Taj Mahal to being struck by lightning, here are the most disturbing stories of selfies gone disastrously wrong.
Accidental cliff dive
A Polish couple’s two young children watched as their parents climbed over the safety barrier and fell to their deaths while taking a selfie on a cliff in Cabo da Roca, Portugal. Once they took a step backwards to angle their shot, they tumbled off of the edge and into the perilous Atlantic Ocean below. Both bodies were not recovered until a day later, as dangerous weather and sea conditions prevented their rescue. The traumatized children, ages five and six, were put into the care of Polish diplomats after witnessing the horrifying scene.
Selfie stick lightning rod
In July 2015, an unnamed English hiker was struck by lightning while trekking through the Brecon Beacons National Park in Wales. The fatal bolt was suspected to have hit the extended metal rod of a selfie stick and electrocuted the young man. Apparently, an unexpected thunderstorm came and gave rescue helicopters little time to find the man. But it was too late, despite a Royal Marine cadet’s attempt to resuscitate him. Though it has never been proven conclusively, authorities believe that the metal rod very well could have attracted the electrical bolt.
Chezka Agas, a 17-year-old engineering student from the Philippines, was swept into a deadly wave on the beach on Bangui Bay during a birthday gathering. She was part of a group of engineering students in attendance that posed for a celebratory photo-op in front of the scenic Bangui windmills when the group became caught in the overpowering ocean current. Several of the party guests were injured, but only Agas drowned in the wave. She was pronounced dead at the scene.
Misstep at the Taj Mahal
A 66-year-old Japanese tourist lost his balance and fell backwards to his death down the steps of the Taj Mahal in September 2015. According to an eyewitness, the man had reportedly been trying to take a selfie at the Royal Gate of the grand mausoleum. Onlookers watched on as the injured man, later identified as Hideto Ueda, was carried off the 17th Century monument by paramedics. He suffered severe head trauma from the fall and died in the hospital. The post mortem reported that Ueda had also experienced a heart attack.
Last bridge she climbed
A 17-year-old Russian teenager fell off a 30-foot railway bridge in St. Petersburg while attempting to get the perfect shot. Xenia Ignatyeva, an amateur photographer, had climbed up the bridge one night in April of 2014 to take a selfie. The police surmised she had wanted to capture ‘the most dramatic effect’. But when the young woman lost her balance, she reached for a hanging cable – which turned out to be a live wire that electrocuted her with 1,500 watts – and she plummeted to her death. A friend was waiting for her at the bottom of the bridge, when Ignatyeya’s body fell beside her. It is believed that she’d been alive until she hit the ground.
‘Ultimate selfie’ gone wrong
A teenage Romanian girl had attempted to take the special selfie on top of a train in the northern town of Iasi, Romania. According to a friend, 18-year-old Anna Urso was planning to post this ‘ultimate selfie’ on Facebook. Urso decided to lie down on the roof of the stationary train car, but when she reached up with one of her legs to pose she hit an overhead live wire that electrocuted her with 27,000 volts. The young girl immediately burst into flames and was pronounced dead at the hospital after suffering burns on over half her of her body.