Recent reports suggest that Internet trolling is on the increase. It is only natural to assume that when someone is being bombarded with threats and abuse online, a stranger is doing it; worryingly it appears that this may not always be the case. Some people are in fact doing it to themselves.
Known by some charities as self-cyberbullying or self-trolling, experts say this behaviour is part of a wider problem that is being dubbed ‘cyber self-harm’. To date only one study has been carried out regarding the practice by the Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Centre (MARC). This study found that of the 617 young people interviewed, 9% had cyberbullied themselves online.
Dr Danah Boyd, youth culture and technology expert, says he didn’t think it ever dawned on anyone that teens would leverage online anonymity in this way.
Ellie* was 15 when she began cyberbullying herself. Setting up multiple profiles, the teenager sent multiple abusive messages to herself,
“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.”
Another way teens are inflicting harm on themselves using the Internet is by posting questions to get negative responses, for example “am I attractive?” Any negative feedback they receive reinforces what they already think is true.
Rachel Welch, director of a self-harm charity, said that while cyber self-harming doesn’t leave a visible injury, it needs to be recognised as a real emotional danger,
“Self-harm like cutting is a physical response to emotional pain, it distracts the person from that pain. Cyber self-harm is replacing emotional pain with another form of emotional pain. This negative emotional reinforcement is extremely worrying. Self-harming behaviours can change rapidly and escalate.”
Reaching out for help can be hard for people who cyber self-harm as there is typically an acute sense of shame involved. If you have done something similar yourself, speaking to someone who doesn’t know you personally can help. A qualified counsellor won’t judge you, instead they will help you understand why you do it and how you can feel better about yourself.
*name has been changed