A Snapchat then a fatal crash: don't be so quick to judge youth

It's too easy to dismiss the "selfie" generation as attention-seeking and shallow. Images are the currency of communication for young people in the digital age.

By Dr Joanne Orlando


My article was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald here

Video of a young woman, fearfully wide-eyed playing the dangerous driving game ‘Chicken’, was uploaded to social media just seconds before she was killed in a horror head-on car crash. No doubt a confronting and regretful situation for her 2 young friends in the car who brashly filmed and uploaded the video. Their actions were however questioned the next day when they were back on the same social media platform- Snapchat- posing for a selfie from their hospital beds while wearing neck braces.

Social media is an important thread in this tragedy.

Taking selfies and filming highly dangerous situations with the purpose of uploading them to social media is difficult to reason, and very easy to judge! Is getting likes that important to this generation? While I don’t condone their actions, I can give insight into young people growing up in the digital age and offer some alternate interpretations to their actions.


Young people’s use of social media is often clichéd as a never-ending sea of trout pouts and butt shots vying against each other for likes and attention. It most definitely can be this; but it’s also something else.

SnapChat has quickly become the most used app by 15-24 year olds. In my own research, teens they tell me they typically send 200-300 images on Snapchat every day! The photos or video usually feature themselves and where they are at the time. It may be a photo of themselves at the gym, a photo of their dog sleeping, or a burger they are eating. They send this constant stream to stay close with good friends and share their day-to-day. Just sending words they say is boring; images are so much better! While older adults tend to communicate digitally with words, todays’ younger adults use visuals. That’s why platforms such as Instagram and Snapchat are their most used social media platforms.

The girls sending photos of themselves from hospital may be judged as disrespectful and showing the naivety and irreverence of youth. The flip side to this thinking is that they were updating their friends on what was happening in the way that their age group do. As outsiders to this generation, we would refer to such photos (often derogatorily) as selfies, but it’s not how they see it. Images are the currency that they use on social media. It’s the shared ‘insider’ tool this generation use to connect with each other.

Joanne Orlando