Why you should care
Because the selfie has been evolving for a while. Now, it’s going undercover.
Selfie — by no means a new concept, although the term gained enough momentum in 2013 to be knighted as Oxford Dictionaries Word of the Year. By now practically everyone with a smartphone has snapped and posted at least one self-portrait, whether at a concert, a restaurant or even a funeral.
But now the selfie (and its couple/group versions, the relfie and usie) is getting a little weird. Turns out, the edgiest denizens of the social media landscape now care less about your smiling face and what you’re getting up to. In fact, they’d rather guess who you are or admire how creative you can be at masking your identity. Meet the next generation of self-centered pics: the anti-selfie.
Instead of trying to enhance the image, SLMMSK provides the tools to obscure it.
SLMMSK is a free app that allows users to take a front-facing pic and then apply a variety of identity-masking filters, complete with a time stamp. Instead of trying to enhance the image — for which there are already loads of apps — SLMMSK provides the tools to obscure it. After the real-time facial-recognition algorithm locates the face area of the photo, you can choose from effects that are often more creepy than cute, like pixilation, semitransparent puzzles, color-shifting, inversion, black bars and X’s, or Arabic script. Or you can replace your face with a giant emoji. Once you’re happy with your creatively disguised self, you can share it on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc. And, no surprise, there are multiple sites dedicated to the anti-selfie — such as glitchselfies.tumblr.com — plus loads of examples on Twitter (#slmmsk) and Facebook.
The app was designed by Russian developer Vladimir Shreyder for Glitché. The Russian company joins others jumping on the self-obsessed photography bandwagon — from gadgets like selfie-friendly phones and arm-extending monopods, to apps that enhance or rate your selfie, to courses on taking and posting better photos (selfie school, anyone?). Within two weeks of its launch in August, SLMMSK landed in the top 100 free apps in the Russian app store and was being used in 6,000 Instagram photos; a few months later, more than 70,000 are tagged #SLMMSK. Upcoming enhancements include 3-D and video editing.For many of us, it might seem freaky and too dark, especially with the jarring interface, most of which is in Cyrillic. So what’s the draw? It could be the fantasy element, says technology journalist and broadcaster Marc Saltzman — like in a video game where “you can be who you’re not in real life,” thanks to avatars and the like. Or maybe “SLMMSKs could be a form of art or activism,” offers Jen Schradie, a sociology fellow at the Institute for Advanced Study in Toulouse, France. Women post more selfies than men, Schradie says, and as many as 25 percent of young women face online harassment. Photo-filtering apps may not solve the problem, but she says they “could be a form of hashtag activism against it.”
What does SLMMSK stand for? In an interview with Russia Beyond the Headlines, Shreyder responded — elusively, of course — “It’s a cipher message, which is interpreted any way a person would like to — it can be a selfie, a mask or whatever.” Schradie, the psychology professor, likens it to a “year-round Halloween costume.”
As we move into these uncharted waters of the post-selfie selfie, Kim Kardashian might have just missed the boat: In April she’s publishing her most popular selfies (i.e., the racy ones) in a book called Selfish. Would potential buyers be as keen if Kim K subbed out her own trademark stare for a giant emoji head?