Moscow: Russia is investigating an online community that urges members to post selfies with dead people and even offers cash prizes for the best shot, police said today.
A police spokesman in the northern city of Syktyvkar told AFP they have opened an investigation into a community called "Selfie with the Deceased" on popular Russian social networking site VK.
The community's administrators pledge to pay between 1,000 and 5,000 rubles (USD 15-USD 76) for the best selfie with a corpse. They say the selfie-taker should be smiling because the deceased "has gone to a better place".
The community's page is filled with photographs of people posing alongside dead bodies at funeral homes.
It was still available on VK as of Monday morning.
The community, which now has some 500 members, caught the attention of law enforcement after its administrator announced a 5,000-ruble (USD 76) cash prize for the best selfie with the body of a 13-year-old Syktyvkar girl killed in a car accident, a police spokesman said.
The family of the deceased teenager told local media they were afraid mobile phone cameras would start flashing at her funeral.
"We are working to elucidate the circumstances surrounding these reports and trying to determine whether one individual or a group of people are behind this," Syktyvkar police spokesman Alexander Shidyusov told AFP.
Shidyusov said the investigation was still at an early stage and could not elaborate on the legal repercussions the community's administrators could face.
The profile of the community's main administrator, named as Alfred Polyakov, has been blocked for "suspicious activity".
AFP managed to speak to Polyakov, with the help of another individual running the site.
Polyakov described himself as a 28-year-old university professor from Donetsk, the separatist-controlled city in eastern Ukraine. He said he created the community a month ago.
"We created the group to change popular attitudes toward death," Polyakov told AFP in a telephone interview. "Death is the start of a new life."
AFP was not able to verify whether Polyakov was using his real name.
Younger Russians have embraced the selfie culture but sometimes with dubious or deadly results.
Last month, Russian police launched a campaign urging people to take safe selfies, with authorities reporting that dozens of people have been killed and hundreds more injured while striking high-risk poses.