The backlash against the post-stabbing selfie

On Wednesday morning, a 16-year-old with a pair of knives stabbed or cut multiple people at a high school outside of Pittsburgh, authorities said. Not long after, someone who appears to be a student from the school posted this photo of himself:

Nate Scimio is listed as a varsity soccer player at the school, and students at the school have posted about him (more on that in a moment), so it does appear that he is a student there.

Reactions to this photo on Instagram — a post-stabbing selfie, because that’s what it is — have been varied. Thousands of people liked the image on Instagram and commented on the image; countless more also chimed in on Twitter. But lots and lots of people also criticized it, because it’s a post-stabbing selfie, and because that concept sounds unbelievable.

We obviously can’t take reactions posted to social media during a brief period of time as an indicator of anything other than what people who were on Twitter posted during a brief period of time. Twitter is notoriously not representative of the larger population (just under one in five adults in the United States is on Twitter, according to Pew, and less than half of those people visit Twitter every day).

Still, even if we acknowledge that the Twitter reaction to the hospital selfie represents a decidedly non-representative pool of people, reactions to this have been kind of extreme. Many of the responses to the photo have come from people astonished that the student — who, again, appears wearing a bandage around his forearm due to a school stabbing that he apparently just escaped — would take and post such a thing.

A lot of the reaction seems to boil down to “Teens, am I right?” — which is generally an unimpeachable stance to take. But this isn’t someone witnessing a car crash and snapping a selfie with the wreckage in the background. This isn’t someone who stood near a flaming orphanage and took a quick selfie to make a Samsung promo or something. This appears to be a teenager who survived a school stabbing, who was taken to a nearby hospital, who had a bandage wrapped around his arm and who took a photo documenting it.

Slade Sohmer over at Hypervocal wrote about this as well, noting that the negative reactions to the selfie are particularly odd when you consider the reports coming from students who are saying that the guy who took the selfie is also the guy who pulled the fire alarm at the school:

Thank god for Nate scimio for pulling the fire alarm #Respect #manythanks #PrayforFR #PrayersforFR

— Bella And Moni (@moniandbella) April 9, 2014

Pulling the fire alarm was the right thing to do, the police chief said Wednesday, since it got people to evacuate. BuzzFeed also spoke to a student who said that Scimio pulled a fire alarm and “acted heroically” in protecting another student. (We should note that we haven’t been able to confirm any of this; we have reached out to students at the school and will update if/when we learn more.)

There has been a lot of media coverage of the selfie, media coverage that inevitably stokes some of the criticism. People who write glass blog posts shouldn’t throw stones, but sending out push alerts making sure people don’t miss the selfie seemingly elevates the image to the same level as the main story about the stabbing. Many people work and have lives and only check social media or the news sporadically may learn about the stabbing and the selfie simultaneously, which may be causing some of the negative reactions.

Yes, teens are teens, and the idea of taking a selfie after an event like this seems weird. But in this case, maybe a teen taking a selfie of himself and his bandage isn’t indicative of societal end times. Maybe it’s just a teen taking a selfie of himself and his bandage after living through a horrifying nightmare and nothing more.

Mark Berman is a reporter on the National staff. He anchors Post Nation, a destination for breaking news, developing stories and quick analysis of events around the country.
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Mark Berman | April 9