Paris Hilton Said She Invented the Selfie. We Set Out to Find the Truth.

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Paris Hilton Said She Invented the Selfie. We Set Out to Find the Truth.

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On Sunday, Paris Hilton modestly took partial credit for inventing the selfie.

The landmark event was said by Ms. Hilton, the hotel heiress, perfume maven and celebrity D.J., to have taken place in November 2006, when she and Britney Spears took a couple of pictures together.

On first thought it seems clear that Ms. Hilton didn’t invent the selfie — though W Magazine inexplicably said this year that she had.

Her Twitter mentions were flooded with naysayers who posted many, many pictures that would seem to prove her claim false.

But we decided to give her the benefit of the doubt. For help, we called up Mark Marino, a professor at the University of Southern California who teaches a writing class that uses selfies as a way to explore identity, to see if there was some set of criteria that could justify Ms. Hilton’s claim.

The professor was dubious.

“Wait,” he said, dissolving into laughter as he came to terms with what was being asked. “The argument is that nobody had ever taken and posted their picture before this?”

He pointed toward Robert Cornelius, who in 1839 took a picture that has been cited as the first selfie. But Cornelius ran into the frame. Could it be argued that a selfie must be taken using a hand-held camera?

Sadly for Ms. Hilton, there is a photo of several gentlemen holding up a box camera in the familiar selfie position in 1920.

Even selfie sticks preceded Ms. Hilton by decades, Mr. Marino said. In a 1934 photo, Helmer and Naemi Larsson, a Swedish couple, appear to be using an actual stick to press the button on a camera above them.

Is this 2006 picture the first selfie ever? No, it’s not.CreditParis Hilton, via Twitter

Not great news for the heiress. But maybe she’d argue that real selfies have to include celebrities. If so, Cindy Sherman, Andy Warhol, Madonna and others got there first.

Well, could a selfie have existed before the term existed? “Selfie” came into popular usage only in 2002, about four years before Ms. Hilton and Ms. Spears posed for the pictures. Mr. Marino and I were getting closer!

Still, try as we might, we could not come up with a way to prove Ms. Hilton right.

“Could it be that they felt that there had never been a selfie quite like this before?” Mr. Marino mused. “She’s not being ahistorical — she’s saying ‘we’ did something with selfies that had not to that moment been done?”

“But yeah, it’s hard for me to tell what that is,” he said.

In conclusion, Paris Hilton did not invent the selfie. Her publicist did not answer questions about whether her tweet was serious. Ms. Spears’s publicist did not respond, either.

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