Pro-Self-Harm and the Visibility of Youth-Generated Problematic Material

Networks, the Internet, and Cloud Computing, Internet and Media and Content

Article Snapshot


danah boyd, Alex Leavitt and Jenny Ryan


I/S: A Journal of Law and Policy for the Information Society, Vol. 7:1, pp. 1-32, 2011


The Internet makes pro-self-harm content, such as cutting or not eating, more visible yet also allows for intervention.

Policy Relevance

Censorship of pro-self-harm groups can push activity further underground, making outreach difficult. Tech companies and mental health workers can engage together in digital grassroots endeavors to reach these communities.

Main Points

  • Pro-self-harm behavior pre-dates the Internet, but the Internet has made this behavior more visible.
  • Pro-self-harm materials are found on pro-self-harm websites, but also on sites that allow for user generated content such as social network sites, blogging sites, and video sites.
  • Increased visibility provides opportunities for outreach, especially helping those who may not seek professional help otherwise.
  • Censorship of pro-self-harm groups drives the problem further underground.
  • Censorship through user-reporting of problematic content and algorithms is not effective. Pro-self-harm groups use encoding to hide their messages and make themselves less detectable.
  • Sites that allow user-produced content have been successful in connecting users of pro-self-harm sites with mental health professionals.


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