Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 18
Schools See New Dilemma in Teens Who Cyberbully Themselves
vey on digital self-harm is one of only
two studies that have been done on
the topic, Patchin said.
"It's still very early days, so even
replicating our work is an important
first step," Patchin said. "But what
we'd love to do is that longitudinal
Such research would involve examining whether correlated factors,
such as cyberbullying, physical selfharm, and drug use, precede or follow
the act of digital self-harm, he said.
By Sasha Jones
Easy to Hide
Like cutting-a form of self-injury
that some adolescents and adults
engage in to try to cope with strong
feelings of pain or upset-digital selfharm is a newer form of teenage expression of self-hatred and depression
that is just beginning to capture the
attention of school officials.
Just as youths who cut themselves
can often hide their wounds and
scars under clothing, digital selfharm is difficult to detect.
Moved by Hannah Smith's story,
cyberbullying researchers Justin
Patchin, an assistant professor of
criminal justice at the University of
Wisconsin-Eau Claire, and Sameer
Hinduja, a professor of criminal justice at Florida Atlantic University,
wanted to understand the prevalence
of adolescents who bully themselves
online and the reasons behind it.
They conducted a nationally representative survey of nearly 6,000 middle and high school students. Their
study, "Digital Self-Harm Among
Adolescents," revealed that 6 percent
of students say they have cyberbullied themselves.
"These are youth who are knowingly and intentionally posting negative messages about themselves-
and reporting that they did so to
researchers. We should be deeply
concerned that there are young
people out there who are struggling
and not getting the support that they
need," researcher Danah Boyd said
in an email.
Boyd, a principal researcher at
Microsoft Research and the founder
of Data & Society, a research institute that focuses on how technology is changing society and culture,
originally coined the term "digital
self-harm" eight years ago in a 2010
blog post that surfaced the online behavior. At the time, Boyd wrote that
teens attacking themselves online
while making it look like someone
else was attacking them was a "very
effective" way to get attention.
Published in the Journal of Adolescent Health last year, Patchin and
Hinduja's study also found that males
were significantly more likely to report self-harming themselves than
females, with 7.1 percent compared
with 5.3 percent, a finding that surprised the researchers.
While a great deal of research has
been done on cyberbullying, the sur-
We should be deeply
concerned that there
are young people
out there who are
struggling and not
getting the support
that they need."
Founder, Data & Society
Although about 1 in 20 adolescents
say they have digitally self-harmed,
and almost half (48.7 percent) of
those have done it more than once,
schools are largely unaware of the
behavior. That is mainly because of
schools' inability to monitor students'
actions on the internet, according to
Lynn Linde, the senior director of
the Center for Counseling Practice,
Policy and Research at the American
"Students are no longer safe anywhere, and what happens outside of
schools, clearly affects students in
schools," Linde said.
Even so, it can be difficult to pinpoint which students are bullying
themselves online as a result of the
anonymous nature of the behavior. In
most cases, that would require tracking the IP address behind a post, or
for a teenager to admit to posting
negatively about himself or herself.
The survey gave those who engaged in the practice the option to explain why they digitally self-harmed.
Of those who did explain, most said
it originated from feelings of selfhatred.
"There's almost a desperate hope of
being able to manipulate people into
giving you a second chance. If other
people feel bad enough for me, if other
people think that this is what's hap-
Resources to Help
Although digital self-harm occurs
on sites that allow anonymous messaging, such as Ask.fm, Sarahah, or
Tumblr, Twitter and other popular
social-media sites have taken steps
to limit the glorification of self-harm
and suicide on their platforms.
Twitter, according to a company
spokeswoman, has updated its policy to be able to take down reported
content that promotes or encourages suicide or self-harm. In the
United States and Japan, Twitter
has launched a new feature meant
to help people who use search terms
associated with self-harm. The
social-media company provides information about getting support to
users searching for "trigger words."
The feature is being released globally
throughout this year.
In March, Twitter introduced the
policy by suspending accounts that
had used trigger words implying
self-harm or suicide, including the
phrases "I want to die" and "kill myself." That resulted in criticism from
Twitter users who share and post
memes, expressing concern that the
site may be unable to distinguish
when such phrases are being used
for humor and entertainment.
"I think that social media is continuing to evolve without the controls
that we [counselors] or parents would
like to see in place," said Linde. "It's
pretty much a free-for-all."
According to an Ask.fm spokesperson, following a change in ownership
and Hannah's death in 2013, the site
conducted a review of self-messaging on its platform. Led by Richard
Graham, a psychiatrist, the internal review found that 10 percent of
questions on the site are self-asked.
Of those, 1.5 percent contain "rude
and cruel language and may contain
encouragements to commit suicide."
Martocci argues that there are
resources that schools can provide
to their students, similar to those
that they would provide to students
being cyberbullied or physically
"There are places online that you
can go to if you're feeling pain. If
you're feeling pain, even if by other
people's standards you haven't been
harassed, if you need support, even
though you're supposed to be able
to take it, you can go to sites like
iHeartMob," Martocci said.
"This is a cyber ER, and we have
to create more cyber ER spaces and
encourage more people to volunteer
Similarly, in 2017, Ask.fm partnered with the Koko service, an
artificial-intelligence service that
detects hurtful content, removes it,
and directs users to mental-healthsupport services.
say they have
18 | EDUCATION WEEK | May 30, 2018 | www.edweek.org
Hannah Smith was a 14-year-old
living in Lutterworth, England, when
she began receiving hateful messages
on the social-networking site Ask.fm.
A few weeks later, she committed
Convinced their daughter was a victim of cyberbullying, her family called
for the question-and-answer site to be
shut down. But when Ask.fm officials
investigated what happened, they
found that 98 percent of the messages
sent to Hannah could be tracked back
to her own IP address.
Hannah had been anonymously
posting the derogatory comments
about herself-something known as
pening to me online, they might give
me a second chance, and then I can
show them that I can fit in," said sociologist Laura Martocci, an expert in
bullying who works with schools and
professional organizations in the New
Other students, however, were classified as seeking attention, with one
such response being, "So people could
see that people bully me too and that
I could be mean to other people because 'people' were mean to me."
Some reported that they digitally
self-harmed to be funny or to see the
reactions of their peers.
"A parallel can be drawn between
the kids who say, 'I'm going to kill
myself,' " Patchin said, comparing the
act of digital self-harming to be funny
with other forms of self-deprecating
humor that teenagers may participate in. "While it may be difficult for
a parent or educator to make that
difference [between potential harm
and humor], professionals can easily
make that difference."
Table of Contents for the Digital Edition of Education Week - May 30, 2018
Education Week - May 30, 2018
News in Brief
Number of Librarians Plummets in Schools, Data Find
A Growing Vision Problem Is Hidden in Plain Sight
Another School in Anguish
The 10 Lives Lost>
Santa Fe Shooting Sparks Debate on School Design
Heated Comments Highlight Divisions in Wake of School Shooting
Survey of K-3 Teachers Captures Affinity With Pre-K Colleagues
Schools See New Dilemma in Teens Who Cyberbully Themselves
DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Gamers Are the New School Athletes: The Rise of Esports
Trump Panel Slammed on Pace Of School Safety Work
DeVos Deflects Criticism At Capitol Hill Hearing
State Restrictions on School Choice Earn Ed. Sec.’s Ire
Jeannine Diddle Uzzi: Math Is a Language. Let’s Teach It That Way
Natalia Kucirkova: Is Silicon Valley Standardizing Learning?
Carolyn R. Hodges & Olga M. Welch: The Face of Leadership
TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Michael J. Petrilli: A Fair and Effective Approach to School Discipline
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Education Week - May 30, 2018
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 2
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Contents
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - News in Brief
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Report Roundup
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Number of Librarians Plummets in Schools, Data Find
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 7
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - A Growing Vision Problem Is Hidden in Plain Sight
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 9
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Another School in Anguish
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - The 10 Lives Lost>
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 12
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Santa Fe Shooting Sparks Debate on School Design
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Heated Comments Highlight Divisions in Wake of School Shooting
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Survey of K-3 Teachers Captures Affinity With Pre-K Colleagues
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 16
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 17
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Schools See New Dilemma in Teens Who Cyberbully Themselves
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - DIGITAL DIRECTIONS: Gamers Are the New School Athletes: The Rise of Esports
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - DeVos Deflects Criticism At Capitol Hill Hearing
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - State Restrictions on School Choice Earn Ed. Sec.’s Ire
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Natalia Kucirkova: Is Silicon Valley Standardizing Learning?
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Carolyn R. Hodges & Olga M. Welch: The Face of Leadership
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Letters
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 25
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - TopSchoolJobs Recruitment Marketplace
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - 27
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - Michael J. Petrilli: A Fair and Effective Approach to School Discipline
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - CW1
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - CW2
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - CW3
Education Week - May 30, 2018 - CW4