The real victim of cyberbullying is...the cyberbully?

There’s also a new kind of self-aggression being taken by teens; a new psychological study has suggested there are teenagers who undergo digital self-harm. Teenagers who perform digital self-harm post derogatory comments about themselves anonymously on social media. (Wen Tong Neo/Flickr Creative Commons)

The teenage years can be a miserable experience. Many adolescents deal with those down days of depression. For twenty percent of teens, however, this downlow of depression can be serious for months, or could hang around in them every day. Usually when depression hangs around, it can lead to something very serious, like physical harm and even suicide. This is the case for 13 to 18 percent of teenagers experiencing an extreme case of anxiety and depression. Severely depressed adolescents tend to perform self-harm such as cutting, burning, drug use and more.

However, there’s also a new kind of self-aggression being taken by teens; a new psychological study has suggested there are teenagers who undergo digital self-harm. Teenagers who perform digital self-harm post derogatory comments about themselves anonymously on social media.

Why do they do this? Psychologist Sheryl Gonzalez-Ziegler told NPR that a recent client of hers posted to her own Instagram account derogatory sayings such as, “I think you’re creepy and gay,” and “Don’t sit next to me again.” Doctor Ziegler says her client posted these from fear of being made fun of by actual people, and by pulling this charade she assumed she’d be able to “beat them to the punch” and perhaps not feel terrible if others did make fun of her. The client did these things because of severe insecurities with who she is.

But she’s not the only one; a survey published in the Journal of Adolescent Health, shows that teens are posting similar criteria on their social media accounts. These young users cyberbully themselves by throwing out insulting words about their own lives, personalities and appearances. The survey showed that the purpose of these self-hating posts was to gain attention from their followers and friends, hoping to receive condolences for the depression they’re dealing with.

The survey was compiled from a study that had 5,593 middle and high school students from across the US, ages 12 to 17, that were given questionnaires pertaining to self-hate. The teens were asked about their experiences with cyberbullying. Sameer Hinduja, co-author of this study, as well as a criminology professor at Florida Atlantic University, grew very concerned with the results. "We were alarmed to learn that six percent of the youth who participated in our study engaged in some form of digital self-harm," he tells NPR.

Hinduja had found that more than half the teens who cyberbullied themselves have done so many times. One student was recorded saying, “I already felt bad about myself, and I wanted to make myself feel worse" and "I wanted to see if someone was really my friend." Doctor Ziegler believes that this problem of adolescent self-harm will only continue to get worse as time moves forward. In a past survey in 2012, nine percent of 617 high school freshmen were recorded to have been cyberbullying themselves for attention, seeking adult comfort or showing how “tough” they are.

We live in a day where social media is second nature to teenagers and adults alike. The world uses Snapchat, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. People write down every moment of their lives like a public diary and occasionally glance at posts like one who raises their wristwatch for the time. Social media has become the culture. One thing for sure is that it’s only integrated into our lives much more since 2012, and at this rate it will only increase its role with society. The number of teens who perform this digital self-hate will only get bigger, and what’s worse, even with condolences from friends and family online, it will only continue unless they’re given psychological help.


Joseph Frare is a staff columnist for The Daily Campus. He can be reached via email at joseph.frare@uconn.edu.