You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

The Rise of 'Selfless' Selfies in Online Activism

BY Jessica McKenzie | Friday, September 6 2013

Take selfies to be proud of, be a selfie activist (Helga Weber/Flickr)

The selfie portrait, omnipresent on most social networking sites, starting with MySpace, has recently found a higher calling: activism. Last month Filipinos organized an online protest of public transit fare hikes under the hashtag #StrikeTheHike. They encouraged supporters to upload selfies with protest messages to Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. Another #SelfieProtest in the Philippines is already under way, calling for the abolishment of the “pork barrel” budgeting system following a corruption scandal implicating at least three senators.

Hundreds of people uploaded pictures to the #StrikeTheHike Facebook page. While #ScrapThePork has apparently not found the same kind of traction on Facebook, they did win the support of the runner up in Asia's Next Top Model, Stephanie Retuya.

The trend of selfie protests is not constrained to the Philippines. Blogger Beth Kanter recently highlighted several other “selfies for good” initiatives: the New York Public Library is using photobooths to drive online interaction with patrons; supporters of immigration reform are raising awareness by uploading selfies with hats under the hashtag #Fairdoras; and Johnson & Johnson sponsored a contest in which they rewarded selfie photos with a $1 donation to a nonprofit chosen by the photographer/subject.

Earlier this year I wrote about the online protest Kurdish Men For Equality, which arose in response to an Iranian judge's absurd decision to punish a convicted criminal through humiliation: parading him through the streets in traditional Kurdish women's clothing. In protest, as many found the judge's form of punishment sexist, men donned women's clothing (and some women donned men's clothing) and took pictures of themselves—selfies—with the message: “Being a woman is not humiliating and should not be considered punishment.” The campaign went viral and was covered by news outlets worldwide, including Huffington Post and Buzzfeed.

The New York-based group Gay, Lesbian & Straight Education Network sponsored Selfies for Silence, and even created a Day of Silence Selfie Sign to make it easy and fast for anyone to contribute.

The rabble-rousing Chinese artist and activist Ai Wei Wei is no stranger to the activism selfie and is known for some of his daring poses, including his iconic middle finger selfie in Tiananmen Square. In the beginning of this year, when pollution levels rose to such unbearable levels in Beijing that parents began bringing their babies to the hospital for breathing problems, the artist posted a selfie of himself wearing a military-like gas mask.

In a twist on the use of selfies in activism, in Australia, the feminist group Collective Shout co-opted Australia's Next Top Model selfie competition on Instagram and started their own body positive campaign, with messages like, “Stop judging me when you have not seen my heart & soul! My worth is not defined by my face. #antmselfie”

They say, and I'm sorry to have to repeat it, that a picture is worth a thousand words. While a single selfie may not be worth, say, a thousand signatures on a petition, it shows a level of commitment and support one step above a mere signature. More importantly, selfies personalize a campaign, and, as the New York Public Library realized, they also drive engagement.


Personal Democracy Media is grateful to the Omidyar Network and the UN Foundation for their generous support of techPresident's WeGov section.