There are entire online communities of teens who embrace dangerous self-harm behaviors. Individuals in this community use social media/blogging websites such as Tumblr to share dark images of things such as cutting, or “thinspiration” — images of women and men with bodies obtained by starving. These disturbing images spread quickly and broadly to shock viewers and fuel bad behaviors. They are triggering to people who are inclined to harm themselves.
FRED DUFOUR/AFP/GETTY IMAGES
Experts are concerned about exposure to these types of things because it can lead to others engaging in similar behavior. Individuals inclined to this behavior can actively seek out support of it to normalize the negative behavior. They can even find websites on how to hurt themselves without committing suicide. The websites warn not to engage in the behavior, and then continue to outline the instructions. Some individuals find out about these “coping methods” through social media and mimic the behavior.
Social media websites have guidelines against images that glorify things such as self-harm, suicide, and eating disorders like anorexia and bulimia. So how do these images slip through the cracks for exposure? Users utilize creative hashtags and lingo to disguise their images of bleeding wrists and skeletal girls. They are hidden behind coded hashtags that might not be flagged. Banning the use of specific hashtags associated with self-harm. However, prohibiting the use of such hashtags might miss the opportunity to help individuals get the help they need. For example, when users search Tumblr for “cutting”, a message will appear that asks, “Everything okay?” and then provides a hotline for people to call, resource links to things such as crisis-intervention groups that can help teens. Many rules are based on other used reporting disturbing and inappropriate things. Another option is for parents to monitor their teen’s use of the web. This is a disturbing issue that deserves a solution.
Need help? In the U.S., call 1-800-273-8255 for the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.
If you’re struggling with an eating disorder, call the National Eating Disorder Association hotline at 1-800-931-2237.
Need help with substance abuse or mental health issues? In the U.S., call 800-662-HELP (4357) for the SAMHSA National Helpline.