The Meaning of Selfies: Understanding the use of selfies during the US 2016 Primaries
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The Meaning of Selfies Understanding the use of selfies during the US 2016 Primaries
*Edgar G. Cruz and Helen Thornham, Selfies Beyond Self-Representations, 2015.
The research was conducted over a period of three months,
examining all mentions of the US primary elections which
contained a selfie image.
This report attempts to give a holistic approach to understanding
selfies, taking into account their wider social, cultural, and media
contexts. As such this project moves beyond the framing of selfies
as a narcissistic practice and highlights instead how they promote
individuality, immediacy, reciprocity, sharing, exchanging,
constant updating, work and commitment*.
Slides 26 28 bring the findings beyond the US Primary Election
and demonstrate how selfies can be used to help companies to
initiate greater conversations
The Meaning of Selfies Slide #
Executive Summary 3-4
Method & Initial Typology 5-9
Initial Typology 8
Weekly Trends 11
Overview of Party Lines 12
Sentiment by Candidates 13
Democratic Frontrunners 14
Republican Frontrunners 16
Comparing Candidate Support 18
Key Findings Around Hashtags 19
Questions of Intimacy 21-26
Going to the Ballots 22
Level of Anonymity 23
Open Support vs Actual Support 25
Beyond the Politics 26 - 28
Conclusion of Research 27
Moving Forward 28
Moving away from the idea of selfies being an example of modern vanity and narcissism, this research argues that selfies should be understood as a
communication method, allowing users to express themselves and integrate socially as well as generally relate to others.
In the US primary elections selfies have been used for three main different reasons:
To share political ideals and bond with other users who shared a similar view;
To obtain social acceptance and validation, especially by associating oneself with a celebrity figure;
As a response to provocative comments by the candidates intended to undermine their views.
The report also found that:
Selfies were either staged or improvised;
Users decided who and what to include in their pictures, and actively chose which handles to mention as well as which hashtags to use.
Why Do People Share Selfies?
When looking at differences at a Party level, those supporting Republican views often withheld intimate information, including their identity and details
of their voting intention.
When looking at specific candidates, we found that:
Supporters of Bernie were more likely to be proud and passionate of their support, feeling a part of something exciting. His supporters have
created an online community of people who are riding this wave of excitement for him. As such they want other Bernie supporters to know that they are in
the same club. This was in part due to the fact that many were first time voters as well that the candidate was often described as the underdog in the
There were approximately as many selfies supporting Hillary Clinton as Sanders, yet more Clinton support was driven by campaigners over ordinary
voters. In addition a greater share of Clinton selfies appeared to be lead by her celebrity status, including interest in Bill and Chelsea Clinton.
Trump supporters were the least likely to share their support as well as their decision to vote for him. However those who did often used highly
emotionally charged selfies. Many of the selfies mentioning him attacked both his views and his campaign.
Many selfies mentioning Ted Cruz were taken by voters either during primaries or at caucuses. There was stronger support for his campaign than
Trumps. However most of his support came from campaigners rather than ordinary voters.
How Did it Play Out?
Method & Initial Typology
* See appendix for detailed query
** This allowed to remove memes and non-organic content. Pictures of users showing their I Voted stickers were kept.
The project looked at Twitter posts from 1st January 31st March 2016 originating from the US, which contained images and either made references to voting or caucusing (i.e. #Ivoted,
#Icaucused, #Iamelectionready) or to selfies and political candidates (i.e. Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz, Bernie Sanders or Donald Trump) or hashtags relating to their campaigns (e.g.
#MakeAmericaGreatAgain or #FeelTheBern)*. Selfie was taken to mean that at least some part of the authors body was present in the image.
The search was limited to organic posts by removing any retweets, and posts which did not contain selfies were manually removed**. Overall 2,640 mentions were recorded.
The project focused on a randomized representative sample, comprising 10% of all content, or 264 mentions. This sample was later manually coded (see next slide)
Mentions of candidates or
= contains selfie and from the US
Automated tagging and categorisation of posts (based on specific mentions of handles, hashtags and
keywords), was achieved using advanced keyword analysis. These were later reviewed in the sampled
data to remove any inaccuracies due to software limitations, especially its inability to conduct visual
Coding included a qualitative approach, reading through content and assessing the impact of shared
opinions and multimedia.
Emotional Engagement was based on the posts syntax and grammar, as well as the staging of the
picture. Short texts lacking punctuation were tagged as Unengaged, while mentions using exaggerated
language and punctuations as well as emoticons were marked as Passionate. Graphic imageries were
also labelled as Dramatic.
Selfie Objectives were divided into six themes.
General Boasting included images of users showing off as well as mostly self-centred posts,
Encouraging Others were tweets which asked users to go vote or support a candidate,
Humour/ Irony included mentions which re-appropriated hashtags to create new meanings as well as
graphic content or posts whos objective was to generate highly emotive responses,
Support for Politicians were selfies which backed a candidate without directly asking others to do the
All other selfies were marked as Other.
Candidate Discussed (limited to Hillary Clinton, Ted Cruz,
Bernie Sanders, and Donald Trump)
Political Party Discussed (limited to Democratic and
Event (Caucus, Debate, Rally, Primary, Other)
@Mentions (differentiating between mentions of political
candidates and others)
Level of Anonymity (Face, Sticker, Other)
Emotional Engagement (Unengaged, Limited Emotions,
Emotional, Very Emotional, Passionate)
Sentiment Towards Candidate (Negative, Neutral, Positive)
Photo Participants (Alone, In Group, With Candidate, With
Other Politicians, Other)
Selfie Objective (General Boasting, Encouraging Others,
Humor/Irony, Support for Politician, Other)
Automated Coding 3: Are the selfies in support of any of the four leading candidates?
Automated Coding 2: Are the selfies in support of a particular political party?
Clinton Sanders Cruz Trump Other/ Not
15% 24% 7% 9% 45%
Automated Coding 1: What is the political setting of the selfie?*
Democrat Republican Not Stated
43% 23% 34%
Rally Primaries Caucus Other
12% 2% 19% 11%
*Caucus: A meeting of the registed members of a legislative body who are members of a particular political party, to select candidates.
*Primaries: A preliminary election to select the candidates for the presidential election. Voters, who are registered members of a
particular political party, cast secret ballots for their preferred candidates.
Initial Typology Range of Emotional Engagement
Jan 04 Jan 11 Jan 18 Jan 25 Feb 01 Feb 08 Feb 15 Feb 22 Feb 29 Mar 07 Mar 14 Mar 21 Mar 28
Hillary Clinton Bernie Sanders Ted Cruz Donald Trump Other/ Unknown
Weekly Trends: Volume of Selfies Mentioning Candidates
March 1st: Super Tuesday
March 5th: Super Saturday
March 15th: Five primaries and
one caucus for each party
February 1st: First election
event with Ohio caucus
* See appendix for full list of