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digital self-harm

Contributor(s): Ivy Wigmore

Digital self-harm is targeting oneself with negative content online. The purpose may be to cause yourself psychological distress or to pretend to be the target of cyberbullying. A simple example of digital self-harm is intentionally seeking out negative content about yourself. More complex examples include creating negative content about yourself or posting abusive comments on your own content either anonymously or from a false account created for that purpose. The latter example is sometimes referred to as self-trolling.

A research study documented in The Journal of Adolescent Health explored the experiences of 5,500 participants between the ages of 12 and 17. Among the survey’s findings:

  • About 35 percent had practiced digital self-harm at least a few times.
  • Thirteen percent said they had done so many times.
  • Victims of actual cyberbullying were more likely to self-troll.
  • Boys were more likely to self-troll than girls.
  • Boys more often said that they self-trolled “as a joke or to get attention” while girls more often said the behavior was “a way to cope with depression and psychological pain.”
  • The behaviors correlated to behavioral problems, physical self-harm, substance abuse and symptoms of depression.

Digital self-harm first became more widely known in 2013 after the suicide of 14-year-old Hannah Smith of Leicestershire, England. After the teen’s death, it was learned that she herself had been the source of cyberbullying messages posted on Ask.fm.

This was last updated in April 2019

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