Teens are cyberbullying themselves as a form of self-harm

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/05/11/digital-cutting.html


and attention seeking


Kids these days. Is this the new “Stop hitting yourself!”?

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Did this survey include a question asking if the respondents did this, or are they reporting this out of the blue?

Because if the former, I’m sure some fraction of that 6% are taking the piss.

If the latter, I’m blown away.


“She thought their teasing wouldn’t be so bad if she beat them to the punch.”

Yes, in my limited experience, self depreciating humor/putting oneself down disarms bullies and other criticism. I don’t know if I would be making fake accounts to do this to myself if I was a kid today. But saying worst things about myself than what they can come up with takes the wind out of theirs sails.

But what do I know, I’m a fucking idiot.


As somebody who was always at least six inches shorter than my average class mate, I knew all the best short jokes.


I used to create fake accounts and use them to point out holes in logic and reasoning in my own posts, so people who disagreed with me would discuss real issues instead of just resorting to straw men and ad hominem.


Self-deprecation is such a classic (and effective) rhetorical trick, it would be a miracle if no clever teens ever stumbled across it. Self harm? I would see it as verbal jiu-jutsu.

But this story also reeks of “look what those crazy teens are doing now!” Media is always “discovering” outrageous new trends - drugs nobody has ever heard of, weird sex practices that leave no evidence of actually having happened. Remember “green light parties?”


Isn’t that a major part of self-harm?

I feel like this is different, though. Does watching a kid apparently getting bullied disarm other bullies, or encourage them?

There’s a big difference between being self-deprecating–where everyone knows you’re making fun of yourself–and creating an imaginary bully that looks, to others, like a real bully.


No actually.

A common belief regarding self-harm is that it is an attention-seeking behaviour; however, in many cases, this is inaccurate. Many self-harmers are very self-conscious of their wounds and scars and feel guilty about their behaviour, leading them to go to great lengths to conceal their behaviour from others. They may offer alternative explanations for their injuries, or conceal their scars with clothing


Yes and no. It varies by person - there’s no one central cause to self-harming behavior, but what I’ve always thought of as “true” self-harm (ones where it’s actually compulsive) is as a form of anxiety-reducing behavior. That’s not attention-seeking at all, and is usually well-hidden.

The above form is a form of maladaptive coping with a mood disorder (anxiety or depression, commonly) and is overwhelmingly a private practice.

The other type is a manifestation of a personality disorder, where the point is not anxiety reduction, but instead is recognition gained through the self-harming behaviors. So when the attention stops, the self-harming behavior stops as well. This is typified in Cluster B disorders (narcissistic, borderline, histrionic, antisocial, mixed/NOS) where it is practiced manipulatively, although I would point out that it is not necessarily a conscious thing. That is, they might rationalize it to themselves for a thousand reasons, but in the end if it stops when doesn’t get them attention / something else they want, it’s almost always the “smoke” where the personality disorder is the “fire”.

I would very strongly suspect that teens engaged in self-cyberbullying are far, far more commonly doing it for the second reason, not the first, especially because of the inherently public platform on which it’s being done.




When asked why they had participated in this behavior, the teens said things like, [1] “I already felt bad about myself, and I wanted to make myself feel worse” and [2] “I wanted to see if someone was really my friend.”

For the person who said (2) it’s manipulative social behaviour. For the person who said (1) it seems more like self-harm.

But I don’t think it makes sense to immediately lump this in with any behaviour that we already have a lot of research on. I wouldn’t leap to the conclusion that it’s self-harm, but I also wouldn’t leap to the conclusion that it’s manipulative or seeking attention.

One thing it reminds me of is a study where people who heard voices were given an opportunity to work with people in computer graphics to construct a model of the voice talking to them. Then they were able to have conversations with the voice externally instead of internally. For some people this was dramatically helpful (of course for many it didn’t have any effect).

Self-talk is somewhere between extremely common and nearly universal. This strikes me as people taking negative self-talk and giving it it’s own platform from which to speak. It’s a little bit like some self-harm in that it’s taking something that is all in your head and creating a manifestation of it.

I wouldn’t be surprised if it is genuinely helpful for some kids. I’d like it if people approached it with less alarm and more openness to understand it is something new.


attention seeking? self deprecation? I’m going with attention seeking.

I think you could differentiate the two by tracking frequency (of self-bullying online) as a function of pro- or counter-statements / engagement by the person’s social connections.

That is, if it created “drama” online, either positive or negative, I would expect that to track along with frequency. If there were two statistically distinct groups, ones where it did track and it didn’t, then I would want to dive deeper in with a qualitative study and analyze the themes and associated emotional / social state the person was in when they made these posts. However, I really do suspect that you would have an extremely high correlation between engagement and frequency, because I don’t commonly associate compulsive self-harm with online platforms.

I’m not saying it doesn’t exist, but it would be a unique presentation of this kind of behavior, and it really would be interesting to study because it doesn’t fit the prior mold of historical non-attention-seeking self-harming behaviors. My first suspicion is that it’s wholly attention-seeking, but that’s just intuition. But without a deeper dive into the data, I’m not seeing a compelling reason to treat it as other than attention-seeking right now, either, because it’s so well in line with attention-seeking that I’m not immediately saying “oooh, that’s something new and weird…”, but instead “Yeah, that psychologist (or was it a psychiatrist?) in the article doesn’t know how these diagnoses work, or is just looking for attention themselves.”

"She thought their teasing wouldn’t be so bad if she beat them to the punch."

I just want to hug this person.


That’s a new one on me, but I recall the panic over “Rainbow Parties”. Strange because it was an outrage among adults who seemingly didn’t know how lipstick worked…


I wonder what it is about certain adults that makes certain kids seek more attention? :thinking:

That charge bugs me. It’s simplistic, and dismissive – the person saying it never seems to go any further than a shallow, victim-blaming diagnosis. “Oh stop it, you’re just trying to get attention!”


If they make the comments funny, they’ll have a great future in stand up comedy