Cyber bullying has been getting more exposure lately and rightly so. With 24 hour access to social media bullies and their victims are no longer confined to the hallways or playgrounds at school. However a new disturbing trend called cyber self-harm, wherein someone anonymously posts harmful messages aimed at themselves, has some self-harm specialists and psychologists worried.
According to a BBC report, the user creates an alternate account on a social media site — something very easy to do with an email address and a little time. The alternative profile is used to externalize their feelings of self-loathing by posting hurtful messages to the personal profile.
“I don’t think it dawned on anyone that teens would leverage anonymity this way,” youth culture and technology Dr. Danah Boyd told the BBC.
Some users who exhibited this behaviour later said they were desperate for positive reinforcement or attention, or that they wished an adult would see and intervene. Some used it as a way to seek help while depressed.
“Technology mirrors and magnifies the good, bad, and ugly about everyday life, but it’s much easier to blame the technology than to look deeper” said Dr Boyd. The technology of social media, especially those with built-in anonymity tools, are not in themselves the problem. As with physical self-harm, whatever means or methods are available, generally become the tools of choice.
A former digital self-harmer spoke of her motivations: “The posts would say I was ugly, I was useless, I wasn’t loved… all the stuff in my head. If I saw it in black and white coming from ‘other people’ I knew it must be true.”
Cyber bullying is already a thorny issue teens and parents are dealing with, but with this new form emerging, the waters could become somewhat muddied. It could be difficult to separate the genuine danger caused by another, from the genuine danger caused by the teen themselves.
Scott Freeman, founder of cyber bullying charity the Cybersmile Foundation encouraged parents to face up to the phenomenon instead of just blaming the internet. “Parents can no longer say ‘I don’t understand the internet’ and relinquish responsibility.”
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