Image by PublicDomainPictures and Adrian Kirby

A recent study by Florida Atlantic University has revealed that an alarming number of teenagers are cyberbullying themselves. This behavior, also known as “digital self-harm,” “self-trolling,” or “self-cyberbullying,”according to the researchers, is displayed by one in twenty teenagers who have bullied themselves online from a sample size of 5,593 twelve- to seventeen-year-olds. Nearly six percent of the teenagers surveyed said they had “anonymously posted something mean about themselves online”, and almost half had done it more than once

Researchers had a lot to say about the reasons for self-cyberbullying, including that boys were more likely to self-cyberbully, but they generally had different motivations. Males said they self-cyberbullied as a joke, whereas females generally did it because of depression or psychological hurt. This makes some sense, as one of the first reported cases of self-cyberbullying was fourteen-year-old Hannah Smith, who committed suicide in 2013 after allegedly anonymously sending herself hurtful messages on social media. Other reasons cited included “self-hate; attention seeking; depressive symptoms; feeling suicidal; to be funny; and to see if anyone would react”, according to Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja, the key researchers.

These results, while only the first of many, set a dangerous precedent for self-cyberbullying well into adulthood. Not only do adults on social media lie for attention, they also inflame hatred of others or bring attention to themselves by self-cyberbullying. While the news that teens are cyberbullying themselves may be surprising to many, it shouldn’t be surprising adults are doing it…and even getting away with it. If teenagers see their adult cohorts threatening themselves online without consequence, perhaps it allows them the confidence to do the same. In an online world that is all about receiving likes and shares, the pressure must be doubly important for teenagers who are trying to navigate an online landscape more intimate and controlling than even that of a decade ago.

Adults who lie on social media, and even cyberbully themselves, likely do it for the same reasons as teenagers, usually as a cry for attention or as a hoax. Just think of self-inserted #Gamergate victim, Brianna Wu. As someone who had nothing to do with the Gamergate controversy, Brianna “Spacekatgal” Wu was the developer of a Mass Effect knock-off for the iOS, who received some derogatory comments from others on social media. Wu decided this harassment wasn’t enough attention, and allegedly sent herself harassing messages:

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Image by Steam

This is the same person who claims she was harassed by—and still uses the pictures of—a series of performance artists (i.e. actors) who behaved in ludicrously ridiculous ways, such as inviting her to participate in a drag race. Wu has seemingly forgotten these people weren’t actually real, and still uses them as “proof” of rape and death threats in Tweets and when she is invited to speaking engagements. Notably, Wu has never faced any consequences for her actions, and the traditional media still reports overwhelmingly positively on her. Wu is not the only one. Others all over the political spectrum have lied for attention on the internet. Is it any wonder teenagers believe it is okay to cyberbully themselves online, when there is seemingly no perceived consequence and overwhelmingly positive press?

While it is not a huge problem among teenagers, it is still worrying that there is any percentage of teenagers who self-cyberbully, and heaping praise on adults who do the same thing will not decrease the statistics. People like Brianna Wu believe they can self-abuse online for a multitude of reasons, but it is not always for attention, like with Wu. One of the many factors listed by Patchin and Hinduja was despressive symptoms.

Hannah’s Smith’s suicide was allegedly a call for attention, as Smith was suicidal after horrific treatment online. The fourteen-year-old hung herself  in her bedroom after being harassed on Ask.fm. The Latvian based site claimed most of the offending messages sent to Smith were sent from the same IP address. The remaining messages were sent from a Belgian teenager. Her father David reacted with anger to the allegations:

She was bullied online. Whether she wrote some of it herself doesn’t make any difference…If Hannah did do some of it herself, then it just shows how desperate she was.

We should be concerned for those who are harassing themselves on the internet, because it is a sign of other issues. Whether that is the depression that someone like Hannah Smith felt from the horrendous harassment she received, or simply a desire for online fame, we need to focus on decreasing the amount of online users who self-cyberbully.

One of the many reasons for this new trend is that we are placing a huge emphasis on social media in this current day and age. No, this doesn’t mean avoiding social media sites altogether, because there are many positives, but the huge reliance on social media means that far too many believe it is more important that it really is. It should be completely acceptable not to have to have a huge social media presence (Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, being the most prominent for teenagers) and these companies must stop relying more on hooking us in to their sites, but on allowing us to use their sites in a more constructive manner.

Teenagers also learn in school about how horrible the internet is, and how cyberbullies will be all over the ‘net, attempting to destroy their reputation and lives. Perhaps some teens take this to heart, believing it is more predominant than it really is, and taking it upon themselves to self-cyberbully as a way of feeling “normal”.

Whatever the case, we must focus more on using social media in a healthy, constructive manner, not only for teenagers, but especially for adults. When teenagers see seemingly healthy, productive adults lying for attention on social media, is it any wonder they’re mimicking the same behavior? Let us put a stop to this now before it has the potential to become much worse.