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Selfie Practices on Instagram during Major Events

The final paper in this AoIR 2017 session is by Gemma San Corneliu and Antoni Roig, whose focus is on the study of selfies as performed personal narratives, in a broader context of narrative texts. How may such selfies be understood through an alternative genealogy that conceptualised selfies as small narratives?

Narratives are generally very important in social media; overall, they create identity at all levels of human life. New narrative models may be emerging from the analysis of selfies, and this project pursued the identification of these narratives through a series of case studies. The researchers focussed both on users and hashtags on Instagram.

The project scraped the Instagram API for 24 hours during the Primavera Sound 2016 festival, using the festival's hashtag; the researchers also conducted some ethnographic fieldwork and participant observation during this time. Selfies during this time represented some 15% of the photos posted, and the tag #selfie was generally not used in these posts. Other tags related to the festival brand and the bands performing at the festival. Participants distinguished between the 'legitimate selfie' (taken to document attendance and fandom) and the 'posing selfie' (seen as more artificial and inauthentic). Most pictures were posted during the performance of headliner Suede, but not all of these related to that performance.

A second case, using identical methodology, focussed on the BCN Games World exhibition. Here, selfies represented some 17% of all posts, but a high volume (33%) of portraits were also present in the data: more than half of all images depicted people at the event. Many of the selfies were taken with selfie sticks. Most hashtags again focussed on the exhibition's brand as well as on the exhibitors, while participants were reluctant to talk about social media uses that were not related to professional practices.

One of the challenges is now to craft the narrative emerging from the research itself, also in terms of appropriate data visualisation. Already, there is an indication that selfies represent only one minority image practice at these events; they remain significant, but portraying others is also important. The #selfie tag itself appears to be falling out of favour, and it is therefore importantly to regard selfies in the context of all the other image types being uploaded from the same events. Selfies may be concentrated around specific aspects of these events, with other image types being used a other times or in other locations.