Social Media Posts about Self-Harm Posts are Increasing
In a recent report from Network Contagion Research Institute and Rutgers University, researchers describe a dramatic rise in social media posts, particularly on Twitter, related to self-harm. Among the disturbing statistics in the report is that since October 2021, hashtags related to self-harm such as #shtwt,” which is short for “self-harm Twitter,” have increased roughly 500 percent, and the number of users with #shtwt in their bios has doubled. Meanwhile, monthly mentions of “shtwt” increased from 3880 tweets in October 2021 to close to 30,000 in July 2022.
If you don’t know what self-harm is, or you want to learn more about signs or treatments, please read our previous blog.
The Twitter posts are increasingly sharing graphic photos, with hashtags, that reveal bloody self-injury practices, which are gaining unusually high engagement. Much of this content goes against Twitter’s rules against glorifying or encouraging suicide or self-harm. The problem is that social media companies are so focused on encouraging connections among users with similar interests, they are slow to notice and remove harmful content.
The users posting to Twitter commonly use acronyms and coded language to discuss their cutting techniques. They will refer to superficial self-cuts as a “catscratch” and to deep cuts as “beans.” The number of mentions of the hashtag “beanstwt” increased from less than 1,000 in October 2020 to over 4,500 tweets in August 2021. The term “raspberry filling” refers to blood, while “moots” is a reference to “mutually engaging in self-harm.” These code names help users avoid detection by Twitter.
Unfortunately, the use of these hashtags and this kind of jargon seems to foster a sense of community in which people who are feeling distressed end up encouraging each other to increase the depth or severity of their self-inflicted wounds. As an example, the report shared a Tweet that said “this is the deepest I’ve done someone be proud of me,” accompanied by an image of the wounds. That tweet gained over 2,000 likes, 165 retweets, and comments such as “that’s so pretty,” or “how beautiful.”
Self-harm tends to begin in early and mid-adolescence, which is the same time that teens are most likely to bow to peer pressure. Parents should be very aware of these trends and the signs of self-harm. If you suspect that your teen is self-harming, the most important thing to do is to seek professional help from a trained therapist, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist. Self-harm is serious, and while it rarely leads to death, it can still be dangerous physically and emotionally. Talking to someone who understands self-harm and who can offer support is incredibly valuable. Trained professionals can help a teen recognize and explore the feelings that lead them to want to hurt themselves. They can also help them identify alternative coping mechanisms that are healthier both mentally and physically. Self-harm is a very treatable condition with therapy, but hard to tackle on your own.