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"Selfie" is Oxford Dictionaries' Word of the Year 2013

November 19, 2013
Amy Wilson
Common Sense Media
San Francisco, CA
CATEGORIES Common Sense Resources, Digital Citizenship, Digital Literacy, Students

One of social media’s most embarrassing unintended consequences has become the global Word of the Year for 2013, according to Oxford Dictionaries. That’s right, selfie has been awarded the prestigious annual prize that is a true indicator of the English-language zeitgeist.

Defined as "a photograph that one has taken of oneself, typically taken with a smartphone or webcam and uploaded to a social media website," the word selfie was, rather appropriately, first used in an online forum in Australia in 2002 – long before the smartphone, with its ubiquitous camera, was even invented.

Of course, it was smartphone technology and its built-in connection to the Internet that made selfies truly take off.

The rise of Instagram didn’t hurt, either. A search of #me on Instagram yields 156,055,844 (and counting) results for you to peruse – the majority of them selfies.

It’s precisely that quick access to social media inside one’s camera that warrants a solid foundation in digital citizenship before joining the fray. A Google image search of “celebrity selfies” yields a dizzying array of oversharing moments. Miley Cyrus is sort of a poster child for sharing risqué selfies. Indeed, Twitter has put a filter on her photo posts with the following message:

Even though, in this case, it was a totally innocent selfie of her with her dog, her track record requires Twitter to put safeguards in place.

And more troubling, of course, are the trends among regular teens on Instagram, like tagging a selfie with “amipretty” and waiting for the comments to roll in. There are more than 10,000 such photos on Instagram today.

Developing a firm sense of self online and knowing when to pause and think are important skills and attributes that we at Common Sense Media address in our curriculum.

Of course, selfies are not all cringe-worthy; they can be charming, too. And, in the case of celebrities, they can provide a glimpse of them as regular people who are “just like us.” Recognizing the distinction between sharing and oversharing is a skill that must be taught to teens and tweens, who often emulate their celebrity idols even when they make mistakes.

Here are a few of our lessons that address the issues teens are facing as they navigate the world of social media and self-identity. For a full list of our lessons, visit our Scope and Sequence page. 

Follow the Digital Trail (K-2)

Students learn that the information they put online leaves a digital footprint or "trail." This trail can be big or small, helpful or hurtful, depending on how they manage it.

Trillion-Dollar Footprint (6-8)

Students learn that they have a digital footprint, which can be searched, shared, and seen by a large, invisible audience. Students learn that they can take some control over their digital footprint based on what they post online.

Digital Life 101 (6-8)

Students are introduced to the 24/7, social nature of digital media and technologies, and gain basic vocabulary and knowledge for discussing the media landscape.

Which Me Should I Be? (6-8)

Students learn that presenting themselves in different ways online carries both benefits and risks.

Digital Life 102 (9-12)

Students test their knowledge of digital media and talk about the role media plays in their lives.

Oops! I Broadcast It on the Internet (9-12)

Students are introduced to the benefits of sharing information online and the potential risks of sharing inappropriate information.

Feeling On Display (9-12)

Students explore the pressures many teen girls and boys face to keep up appearances online.

Who Are You Online? (9-12)

Students explore how they and others represent themselves online, and the relationship between their online and offline selves.

Overexposed: Sexting and Relationships (9-12)

Students explore the risks and responsibilities of carrying out romantic relationships in the digital world.