Selfie vs #unselfie Face Off

Selfie vs #unselfie Face Off
By Rachel Healy

Everyone from new BFFs the Obamas and the Clintons, to Joe Blog and almost every narcissistic celebrity under the sun, has been guilty of pulling a shameless “selfie” at one time or another.

And now the digital self-portrait, taken at varying flattering angles and with varying degrees of success, has been declared word of the year for 2013, according to Britain’s Oxford University Press.

Researchers behind the renowned Oxford Dictionaries pick a prominent word or expression each year that best reflects the mood of the times; meaning 2013 has officially been named the year of social media’s ultimate self-gratification.

Previous winners of the prestigious award include “GIF” in the US last year (for those of you who don’t know, GIF stands for Graphics Interchange Format, or image files that are compressed to reduce transfer time. Not terribly exciting, I know, which is probably why it hasn’t gone down in the annals like the notorious selfie.)

“Squeezed middle” was the big winner in 2011, “refudiate” in 2010, the somewhat out of place word that no-one wants to hear—“unfriend” in 2009—followed by the sign-of-the-times “credit crunch” in 2008, “carbon footprint” in 2007 and “carbon neutral” in 2006, with the big buzzword of 2005 being “Sudoku.” (Mind boggling to think it’s been 8 years since Sudoku’s rein. It’s hard to remember a time when putting pen to paper equaled entertainment.)

Rather depressingly, this linguistic map seems to trace the decline of the English language, in direct correlation to the meteoric rise of social media’s influence. What newly coined word will it be next year, given that “twerking” came a close second this year? It seems Miley Cyrus has a lot to answer for.

The word “selfie” first appeared over ten years ago in 2002, which is considered medieval in digital time in Australia. Ozzie English often adds the suffix “-ie” to words, such as the oft quoted ‘barbie’ for barbeque or ‘tinnie’ for a can of beer.

In fact, Oxford usually assigns a separate word of the year to the US and to the UK, but it said “selfie” was given a blanket vote as it captured the imagination on both sides of the Atlantic, beating out an incredible 150 million other words in the running that are in use each month.

Other buzzwords in the running were “showrooming” (the practice of visiting a shop to look at a product before buying it online at a lower price) and “Bitcoin,” which is a digital currency that’s gained widespread media attention lately. The verb “binge-watch” was another, which Netflix can undoubtedly lay claim to.

Other contenders ranged from the always ill-advised “sexting” to “BYOD” which can have a double meaning, depending on if you’re at work or play.

Thankfully after all this silliness, there is a flipside. A timely new campaign is cashing in on the selfie phenomenon and turning the root of its self-absorption into a charitable endeavour.

David Guerrero, creative chairman of BBDO Guerrero, has created the “#unselfie” or a picture with a sign over your face urging people to support relief aid for the Philippines. The aim is for users to spread the photos through their social networks, while the hashtag makes it easy to see the cumulative effect of the crowdsourcing campaign.

Restoring our faith in humanity, the project has taken off, with US Secretary of State John Kerry, activist Mia Farrow and thousands of people all around the world using the former fad for good.

According to Guerrero, who is based in Manila, there have been over 9 million impressions so far. And, he points out modestly, it doesn’t matter which charity is promoted in these #unselfies as long as it spreads the word about how to donate in response to one of the worst natural disasters in history.

We here in North America have also put a positive spin on the trend with “UNselfie” pictures of citizens doing good “unselfish” deeds.

December 3, 2013, the first Tuesday following Thanksgiving in the US, Black Friday and Cyber Monday, is a day set aside beginning two years ago to remind us to give back, volunteer for a local charity or donate to a local cause.

Over 6,300 charities, corporations, politicians and foundations from around the world have come together on this day to celebrate the idea of a “compassionate movement,” with unselfish social media souls using the #UNselfie and #givingtuesday hashtags to tweet a related message.

Last year, donations tracked on #givingtuesday increased by 50% from the prior year, while average gifts increased by 25%, so maybe the world is ready for the #unselfie to be word of the year 2014.

Which one will you be sharing?

Rachel Healy is a Corporate Communications & Social Media Manager.
Find her at and on Twitter: @RachelHealyIre.