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Busted: Selfie Police turns vanity to charity

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BYU advertising student Dustin Locke (left) and recent BYU advertising graduate Chas Barton (right) had to pay their own website $1 each for posting these selfies. (Photo from selfiepolice.org)

When advertising students Dustin Locke and Chas Barton got together for a 24-hour creativity competition at BYU, Vittana challenged them to come up with a way to get their generation excited about charitable giving. But when they saw their peers using their $600 smartphones to take photos of themselves, “selfless” wasn’t the word that came to mind.

“We realized that our generation is super, super selfish,” Barton said. “That’s kind of what we’re known for. So instead of forcing us to be charitable, we thought, ‘What if we could just take the selfishness and turn it into charity?'”

And so the Selfie Police was born. The website puts it simply: You owe humanity a dollar if you post a selfie. One hundred percent of that dollar goes to Vittana, an organization that gives financial aid to college students in developing countries.

“We could have given the money to anyone, but we chose Vittana because it’s a nice matchup between the people who are donating the money – largely, college students who are trying to get an education – and the recipients, who are college kids in developing countries,” Locke said.

Since the site launched on Jan. 7, it has seen 3,300 unique visitors and raised more than $1,400. Several news outlets have written about the site, including the Huffington Post and a publication in France. Barton and Locke gave an interview with a Vancouver radio station, and the site recently saw their first donation from Australia. Not bad for a two-week-old charity.

Neon Trees  lead vocalist and keyboardist Tyler Glenn heard about Selfie Police and promised them that his check is in the mail.

“He said he’s all for it,” Barton said. “But he won’t stop taking selfies. He said, ‘It’s not my fault God made me pretty.'”

But Selfie Police isn’t asking him to stop. Really, they don’t want anyone to stop. They just want to bring a charitable aspect to the trend.

“We don’t want to end selfies at all, because then we wouldn’t be able to fund education,” Barton said. “We just want to change the conversation so you’re still down with posting a selfie, you just think twice about what that means and what your duty is to society in general.”

The strength of Selfie Police is that it caters to both people who love selfies and those who don’t. “Violators” can come forward of their own accord or be “prosecuted” by their friends, who urge them to contribute using #selfiepolice or by linking to selfiepolice.org.

“You can go police your friends and bust them, which is a lot of fun,” Locke said. “And if you love taking and posting selfies, it’s fun to donate a dollar to charity. So both sides win.”

Depending on the level of past selfie indulgence, some suspects might owe hundreds in back pay. Barton himself owed about $30 when the site launched. But the real cash will come in when those listed as the Selfie Police Most Wanted come forward. Jimmy Fallon, Imagine Dragons and LeBron James top the list, followed by celebrities like Beyonce, Zooey Deschanel, Mark Cuban and Benny Winfield, Jr., the self-proclaimed “leader of the selfie movement.”

Selfie Police is just getting started, but Locke and Barton already see chances for expansion.

“Next on the list is a charity that takes $1 donations for every photo of food,” Barton said. “We’d use the money to feed the needy. It’s something that we legitimately talked about, but have made zero real plans about. We’re working on Selfie Police now.”

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