“Cyber self-harm: why do people troll themselves online?”

Article by Denise Winterman, BBC News (2013-12-03). Excerpts follow below. They may sound familiar. They certainly sounded familiar to me; while we’ve all seen quite enough regular trolling, and trolling of all shapes and sizes and shades—including the good, virtuous, angrily sincere—this is a different, darker side that I’d never thought of. It does make me wonder, though, how far cyber self-harm extends. The BBC item below refers specifically to teenagers and teen issues.

But those of us who spend a lot of time online see these issues frequently and not only in teens. These issues continue into later life: adults, too, may be emotionally damaged, scarred, suffer low self-esteem. Especially, all too often, women. And many of us who have been online for a long time, veterans, have “been trolled” at some point; not always reacting or coping well, often realizing what one ought to have done instead after the fact. I know I have. As witness, much of what is on this here blog; and yes, much of the writing on here is for my own purposes and needs. Sometimes just to try to figure something out and understand better. To learn from experience. Sometimes to get something out of my system. Either way, self-administered therapeutically-intended writing. This is for me. I think it helps.

It could be private, in a good old-fashioned secret diary. But instead, I’ve shared it. Accepting the accompanying dangers of over-sharing. Stuff is up here publicly in case anyone else has been through or is currently going through similar questions. That is, asking questions to try and understand in the abstract and at a distance, as part of every ethical being’s duty to understand everything around them, especially their fellow life-forms. And asking questions about their own personal “issues,” including having been hurt (e.g. trolled) themselves; conversation and community can help through the exchange of stories, solidarity, sympathy, and support.

I know that I have also reacted in the wrong way, to people whose online interactions were clumsily phrased, misread, and misinterpreted. I can’t right these wrongs. But in the future, I’ll think very hard, and maybe ask some more questions, in case this is someone who is hurt and suffering; what they are actually writing, when you read between the lines, is a cry for help. The problem here is that super-close reading is always a whisker away from over-reading, in the same area of skewed perspective on reality as that of the original writer. Paranoia. Seeing things that maybe aren’t there (or are something else), and maybe even tottering over into what’s not real: fictions, illusions, delusions. Both in the case of the cyber-self-troll and the sympathetic sensitive reader.

Next time I see someone posting something along the lines of “am I pretty? am I ugly? help: I’m sagging / wrinkling!” I’m pretty sure my first thought will be about this article. Rather than assuming this is a “regular” troll and ignoring such a conversation non-starter, I hope the new conditioned reaction (mine and that of, I hope, many others) will be to send a consoling hug—after all, isn’t that what’s really needed, and wanted, and will contribute to helping? It’s a start. Doing that and referring people gently to outside help is probably the best an amateur (i.e. not a mental-health professional) can do.

trolling and/vs cyber self-harm

[…] When people are bombarded with abuse and threats on social networking sites the common assumption is that a stranger is doing it, but it’s not always the case.

Some people do it to themselves.

It’s known as self-trolling or self-cyberbullying and some charities and social media experts say it is part of another emerging problem, predominantly among young people, they are calling cyber or digital self-harm. […]

[how autotrolling works:] anonymously self-trolling  […] set up multiple online profiles and used different names to post abusive messages to herself.

“The posts would say I was ugly, I was useless, I wasn’t loved… all the stuff in my head,” [“Elle”] says. “If I saw it in black and white coming from ‘other people’ I knew it must be true.”

Another type of self cyberbullying identified is when people post personal questions online specifically to get negative responses – things like “am I attractive”? The abusive replies reinforce what the person feels about themselves. […] Motivations […] include a “cry for help”, to gain attention from adults and peers and to get people to worry about them and “stick up” for them online.

[This is] a development in self-harm. [Rachel Welch, director of the charity www.selfharm.co.uk:] “It may not leave a visible injury but it needs to be recognised as a real emotional danger to young people who already have a very damaged sense of self. What’s happening is only really starting to emerge now and it’s worrying, it can be really dark stuff.”

“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.”[…]

Part of the problem for those researching the behaviour is that it’s extremely secretive because of the acute sense of shame involved.

“Those who do it really fear being found out,” says Welch. “The shame and humiliation of being exposed as sending abusive messages to yourself online is huge.”

A leading adolescent psychologist agrees fear of humiliation is a huge factor for young people.

“For adolescents, appearance and relating in groups is all about trying to establish yourself as mature and adult and being exposed as more childlike is a constant fear,” says Dr Richard Graham, who works at London’s Tavistock and Portman NHS Foundation Trust and specialises in the use of digital and new technology.




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