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What would compel someone to take a selfie during Hurricane Irma?


Officials across the southeastern United States said it loud and clear last week: Stay out of Irma's way or suffer the consequences.

Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn was especially harsh on Twitter days before major Hurricane Irma was expected to pummel the city, tweeting: "We are about to get punched in the face by this storm. We need to be prepared."

Florida Gov. Rick Scott pleaded residents to stay inside immediately after the storm, keeping the pathways clear for officials as they cleaned up the mess left in the hurricane's wake.

While Tampa avoided a devastating blow, conditions across parts of Florida were extremely dangerous. Scenes of flooded streets, downed trees and warped signs looked like something out of a movie.

However, some risk-takers were spotted on webcams and live TV shots venturing into hazardous territory taking selfies, showing damage and devastation while ensuring their face was a part of the image.

"Given the value our culture places on near-constant entertainment, why wouldn't someone risk harm to get a selfie that looks dangerous or adventurous?," Jessica Maddox, Ph.D. candidate in mass communication at the University of Georgia, wrote in an email to AccuWeather.

Maddox has completed award-winning work in the social communications field and previously worked as a social media strategist.

She pointed to the droves of meteorologists and reporters who stood out in drenching rain, ferocious winds and dangerous flooding as a link to the extreme photo-taking behavior. If imitation is a form of flattery, why wouldn't a wannabe weather reporter venture into the elements?

"Most of culture is currently dominated by this tendency to make everything bigger, grander, and more spectacular than what came before it – people risking it all to take the perfect selfie is no exception," Maddox said.

The selfie can bring out the exhibitionist in a person's personality. Reactions to posts often mean everything to someone taking an extreme selfie. However, Maddox said this can be more about building a sense of community than an act of narcissism.

In the digital age, community doesn't exist exclusively in a geographical location. An extreme selfie can garner attention from around the world.

And while nearly everyone takes selfies, it takes a certain type of person to risk personal safety to take one in the middle of a hurricane, Steve Holiday, instructor and Ph.D. candidate at Texas Tech University, told AccuWeather.

"A person who feels that the need to be in the midst of the storm outweighs their own personal safety," he said in an email.

Holiday published a study exploring three basic motivations behind selfie-taking: communication, documentation and publicity.

Those who snap a selfie to document something are called autobiographers. Self-publicists share a selfie to further their personal brand.

But during a disaster or severe weather, motivations can change, Holiday said.

irma selfie

Gustavo Mejia, left, of Miami, and his nephew Juan Sebastian Mejia, of Palmira, Colombia, take a selfie in front of a boarded up hotel on South Beach, Friday, Sept. 8, 2017, in Miami Beach, Fla. (AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee)


In a hurricane, Holiday said, the communicator would view their selfie as a way of updating their followers on their safety or to comment on the storm's impact.

"The autobiographers would engage in this activity as a way to personally document where they were and what was going on," Holiday said.

The self-publicist would want his/her image to reflect an adventurous and brave persona. While he/she would want people to view and react to his/her image, he/she doesn't necessarily engage with the audience.

"These individuals generally, but not universally, like to make sure they are presented positively," Holiday said. "They may choose to show that they are afraid, but that expression is intentional."

Still, there is no single overarching personality trait that would compel someone to take a selfie during dangerous conditions, both researchers said.