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.