Just when you thought teen cyberbullying couldn't get any worse, there's a new trend that's both scarier and stranger than anything we've ever heard before. According to recent research, teens are now going online to post negative things about themselves, USA Today reports.
This new phenomenon is known as "digital self-harm," "self-trolling" or "self-cyberbullying," and a study from Florida Atlantic University has found that 6 percent of teens report having anonymously engaged in such behavior, Medical Xpress reports. This stat is chillingly similar to the 8 percent of children ages 7 to 16 who say they had physically harmed or injured themselves in a 2012 study, USA Today reports.
Bullying expert Sameer Hinduja, a professor of criminology at Florida Atlantic University and co-director of the Cyberbullying Research Center, who conducted the study, tells USA Today, "We have a tendency to demonize the aggressor, but in some cases, maybe one out of 20, the aggressor and target are the same."
The study, which is published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, involved a nationally representative sample of 5,593 middle and high school students in the U.S. between the ages of 12 and 17 years old. Participants were asked how often and why they chose to post mean things about themselves online.
Among the teens who have engaged in digital self-harm, 51.3 percent say they've done it just one time, 35.3 percent say they've done it a few times, and 13.2 percent say they've done it many times. In terms of gender, boys were more likely to troll themselves on the Internet (7 percent), but report doing so as a joke or to get attention. Meanwhile, 5 percent of girls report self-cyberbullying, and many said they did so due to depression or psychological hurt, according to Medical Xpress.
Study authors say their research was sparked by the suicide of a 14-year-old English girl named Hannah Smith back in 2014. She appeared to be a victim of online bullying via mean messages sent to her on Ask.fm, a site where people can anonymously send questions to users. However, after police looked into her account after she had died, they found that 98 percent of the messages she received were sent from the same IP address as the computer she was using—in other words, she was sending the mean words to herself.
The study findings are particularly disturbing because the suicide rate in the U.S. has steadily climbed since 2007, for both boys and girls. According to a report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the suicide rate for girls ages 15 to 19 has doubled from 2007 to 2015, while the suicide rate for boys in the same age range and time period has increased by 30 percent.
Hinduja tells USA Today he hopes that as more educators and parents bring up the phenomenon, more people will start openly talking about the issue, quite possibly even kids, who are usually hesitant to discuss the feelings and struggles motivating their self-harm.