Mentions of self-harm on Twitter have increased significantly since last year.
A study conducted by the Network Contagion Research Institute (NCRI) found that photos and mentions of self-harm—specifically the act of cutting—have risen sharply over the last year on Twitter.
Mentions of self-harm are prohibited on Twitter, but users have created shorthand and coded words along with memes to continue discussion of the topic.
One example is the hashtag #shtwt, which stands for “self-harm Twitter.” A search of the phrase will help the user find posts on the topic. The posts often glorify the act of self-harm or include instructions on how to self harm.
The study analyzed tweets that contained the coded language in order to more accurately judge how many users were discussing the topic.
Why it’s news
Since the pandemic, many Americans, especially teens, have been experiencing a mental-health crisis.
Promotion of self-harm material on social media can be extremely detrimental to teens already experiencing a mental-health crisis.
“It is also a distinct possibility that as a result of an algorithm, young people seeking help to stop harming themselves could find themselves, instead, exposed to communities that encourage and celebrate their compulsion to cut themselves,” the researchers report.
While Twitter has taken steps to minimize the amount of harmful content on its platform, a California bill could push the company to take things a step further.
If signed into law, California’s new bill would require social media companies to consider minors’ health when designing their platforms and conduct studies on how the features may affect the minors.
The study began in October 2021 when NCRI started tracking mentions of #shtwt. At the time, there were just under 4,000 mentions of the hashtag, including retweets. Over the last six months, there have been an average of 20,000 tweets using the hashtag. The use of the hashtag has increased 500% over the last 11 months, according to the report.
Promotion of self harm is prohibited on Twitter, but individuals sharing stories about overcoming self harm or ways to cope with addictions to self harm are not prohibited. These allowances create some wiggle room that lets some posts glorifying self harm stay up on the platform.
Twitter has blocked #shtwt on the platform, however searching the term without the hashtag still brings up results.