Last night Channel 4's Dispatches, broadcast “Inside Facebook: Secrets of a Social Network”. The programme highlighted Facebook's policy on content removal from the Social Media Platform. By all accounts it was shocking viewing. Facebook appear to walk a very fine line attempting to balance free speech against a tsunami of inappropriate content.
It was more than a little disturbing to see the classifications for removal, weighed against the number of followers and potential revenue to be made from the content. With a description of the more active or engaging elements on Facebook being at the extremes' of what was acceptable, such as Self-Harm.
Self-harm has been described as “a non-fatal act where an individual engages in a behaviour or ingests a substance with the intention of causing harm to themselves”. This would include the cutting or slicing of the forearm or other part of the body. Images like these had been posted on Facebook and not been removed.
However Facebook are not the only Social Media platform to host Self-Harm images, this content can be found many others also. A quick search on other platforms returned a staggering number of support groups promoting Self-Harm which contained horrific images far too graphic to show.
The act of self-harm can be a precursor to an act of suicide, although this has been contested by some. What is accepted by all, is that self-harm is a means by which someone can express their emotional pain in a physical way. The act of cutting can be percieved as a form of release, from trauma a person is experiencing. This relief can be short-lived, once the emotional pain returns the urge to self-harm again can return.
Posting images of self–harming online pose a number of substantial risks. In an age where validation from others is constantly being sought out online, individuals can receive support in the form of negative reinforcement. Having posted the image in an online forum, others can offer empathy, praise or even encourage the repetition of the act. Worse aging others may encourage an escalation of the type of harm being inflicted which may ultimately lead to tragic consequences.
Individuals can find themselves drawn in to online relationships or groups, were the act of self-harming is normalised, with people offering encouragement and advice on different ways to self-harm or ways in which to successfully conceal the injuries. A study conducted in the UK in 2014 found that up to 18% of secondary school students were influenced to self-harm by Social Media. The proliferation of Social Media among young people would be far greater now than in 2014.
Young people exist in a very image driven world. Sharing of images of themselves online, has become part of their daily life. Popular Apps like Snapchat, encourage the sharing of images and even rewards the user through gamification. The much sought after reward of validation, then comes from their peers in their social network through Likes and Comments. Images are very powerful and are far more influential than the written word. This is possibly why viewing images of self-harm can be a potential trigger for some to self-harm themselves. This is why we always advise parents to be aware of what type of content children are posting and exposed to online.
The ISPCC website offers really good advice on Self-Harm. We should always be mindful that a person who has self-harmed needs the appropriate help and assistance, never admonishment for their action as this only results in re-victimisation.
If you suspect that a friend or relative is self-harming, look out for any of the following signs
Unexplained cuts, bruises or cigarette burns, usually on their wrists, arms, thighs and chest
Keeping themselves fully covered at all times, even in hot weather
Signs of depression such as low mood, tearfulness or a lack of motivation or interest in anything
Changes in eating habits or being secretive about eating, and any unusual weight loss or weight gain
Signs of low self-esteem, such as blaming themselves for any problems or thinking they are not good enough for something
Frequent “accidents” – someone who self-harms may claim to be clumsy or have many mishaps, in order to explain away injuries.
Signs they have been pulling out their hair
Signs of alcohol or drug misuse
Tips for responding to self-harm
Remember not to panic! Someone who self-harms might have been doing this for a long time even though you have not been aware of it
Try to stay calm and respond with care and concern
Listen to what the person is saying and be aware that they are in distress and need support
If someone has ingested substances they need medical attention immediately and they might also need medical attention for other wounds or injuries
If there is an immediate injury requiring medical attention it would be very helpful if you could accompany the person to A&E and offer them support while they are being treated
It is important for everyone to remember that anyone seeking help is entitled to the same level of respect, sympathy and care regardless of how their injuries have been caused.
For more information and advice on this topic click here to download the full leaflet