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Swiss Selfies’ Social Significance

August 27, 2014

While “selfies” had for some time been largely synonymous with attention-seeking teenage girls, they have now become popular with a much wider demographic. We have all most likely been guilty, at one time or another, of indulging our narcissism by taking a selfie or two—and politicians are no different. In fact, examples in American politics (Anthony Weiner most readily comes to mind), have shown us that those who live under the constant spotlight of public scrutiny can in fact be far more reckless than the average Joe in their personal use of technology. It is this carelessness that is now the topic of discussion not in the United States, but in Switzerland.


The Swiss media is currently aflame in debate over the recent discovery that two Swiss politicians have been thoughtlessly posting graphic selfies online—and from the comfort of their parliamentary offices. Both a female parliamentary secretary and a male Member of Parliament have recently had their seedy sides exposed, the former posting her graphic selfies on her Twitter account (which boasted roughly 11,000 followers,) and the latter sending his to a friend through an online app.


This raises several issues. First of all, and most obviously, is the matter of appropriateness. Was the Swiss Parliament really the ideal place to take nude selfies? What goes on behind closed doors doesn’t stay behind closed doors when those doors show up in the background of graphic selfies posted on Twitter.


Second, there is the ever-murkier question of privacy. Whether they were deliberately posted for the world to see or sent quietly to a friend who then decided to share them, are the pictures politicians take (supposedly) on their own time really any of the concern of the media and of the public? One might argue yes, considering that the photos were carelessly posted online and taken within the confines of the Swiss Parliament. However, the Swiss are reportedly having much more trouble with this question. For them, privacy is sacred and much more encompassing than it is, say, for Americans. This extends even so far as domestic abuse, which Switzerland places in a foggy grey zone, as the Swiss believe that what happens inside the home or outside of work is solely the concern of the individual. Put in this context, the current raging debate in Switzerland makes much more sense. Perhaps this seemingly trivial scandal surrounding selfies might even lead to a reformulation of the Swiss concept of privacy—or maybe it will just help to reinforce the country’s already staunch belief in the individual’s inalienable right to carefully-guarded privacy.


Lastly, there is the issue of gender. While the female parliamentary secretary was fired for her indiscretion, the male Member of Parliament was given a half-hearted slap on the wrist and then it was back to business as usual. According to BBC correspondent Imogen Foulkes, this suggests that “there is still one rule for powerful men, and another for ordinary women.” This comment, while not novel, does remind us that advanced Western countries can still be quite backward—a fact that is often overshadowed by the sensationalism of embarrassing yet largely insignificant public scandals.

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