Examining the scope and patterns of deliberate self-injurious cutting content in popular social media

Research paper by Elizabeth M. Miguel B.A., Tommy Chou M.S., Alejandra Golik B.A., Danielle Cornacchio M.S., Amanda L. Sanchez M.S., Mariah DeSerisy B.S., Jonathan S. Comer Ph.D.

Indexed on: 01 Jul '17Published on: 29 Jun '17Published in: Depression and Anxiety


Social networking services (SNS) have rapidly become a central platform for adolescents’ social interactions and media consumption patterns. The present study examined a representative sample of publicly accessible content related to deliberate self-injurious cutting across three SNS platforms: Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram.Data collection simulated searches for publicly available deliberate self-injury content on Twitter, Tumblr, and Instagram. Over a six-month period at randomly generated time points, data were obtained by searching “#cutting” on each SNS platform and collecting the first 10 posts generated. Independent evaluators coded posts for presence of the following: (a) graphic content, (b) negative self-evaluations, (c) references to mental health terms, (d) discouragement of deliberate self-injury, and (e) recovery-oriented resources. Differences across platforms were examined.Data collection yielded a sample of 1,155 public posts (770 of which were related to mental health). Roughly 60% of sampled posts depicted graphic content, almost half included negative self-evaluations, only 9.5% discouraged self-injury, and <1% included formal recovery resources. Instagram posts displayed the greatest proportion of graphic content and negative self-evaluations, whereas Twitter exhibited the smallest proportion of each.Findings characterize the graphic nature of online SNS deliberate self-injury content and the relative absence of SNS-posted resources for populations seeking out deliberate self-injurious cutting content. Mental health professionals must recognize the rapidly changing landscape of adolescent media consumption, influences, and social interaction as they may pertain to self-harm patterns.