YouTube is home to every great viral video, like “The Bed Intruder,” “Star Wars Kid,” and “David After Dentist.” But besides these hilarious “videos du jour,” YouTube contains a dark subculture of videos depicting self-injury.
In a recent study published in the journal Pediatrics, researchers studied the 100 most-viewed videos that appear when one searches “self-harm” and “self-injury.” With more than 2 million views, on average, almost every video had explicit pictures of injuries, most commonly cutting.
However, cutting is only one form of self-injury. The Mayo Clinic defines “self-injury” as “the act of deliberately harming your own body, such as cutting or burning yourself.” In most cases, people who self-mutilate don’t do this as a suicide attempt; instead, it’s simply their way of dealing with emotion, pain or anger.
Fourteen to 24 percent of teens have purposefully harmed themselves, said lead author of the Pediatrics study, Stephen Lewis of the University of Guelph.
When I initially heard about this growing trend in videos, I was hesitant to believe it. How could YouTube legally host these videos? In my disbelief, I searched for “self-injury” and “self-harm” and was sucked into the dark underworld of “trigger videos.”
Most “triggering” videos are compilations of haunting songs, macabre imagery, and photographs of various self-harm.
Trigger videos seem to be made either by survivors who attempt to discourage the behavior or current self-harmers who attempt to show others they are not alone.
But even the videos supposedly discouraging the behavior glamorized it, and failed to offer any external resources or help.
Moreover, other popular self-injury videos were informational, instructing people how to hide or treat their self-inflicted scars.
This again prompts the question: why does YouTube allow this?
In a statement given shortly after the study was released, the company stated that it does not encourage harmful activities, but it cannot possibly prescreen all videos. Rather, they rely on users to flag offensive videos, which employees can then evaluate.
But as the study pointed out, the vast majority of these videos had never been flagged, because the viewers watching them don’t find them offensive.
As someone who had many friends suffer the addiction of self-mutilation, I find YouTube’s excuse that they just “don’t have time” to take down these videos as infuriating and insulting.
It’s surprising that YouTube hasn’t already had a lawsuit filed against it from people who were “triggered” into self-harm by these videos.
Other companies are being proactive to offer resources to help sufferers. For example, when one looks up “suicide” on Google a national hotline number automatically appears. YouTube says it is considering the feasibility of such a similar function for “self-harm” and “self-injury” searches.
Psychologist Tracy Knight, an associate professor at Western Illinois University, noted the possibility that these videos could cause people to begin harming themselves. But it also thrusts the self-harm epidemic into the public realm, opening it up for discussion.
He is right 8212; if there is one thing that needs to be discussed openly in America, I believe it to be mental illness. Maybe people seem to lack compassion for self-harmers, calling them “immature” and their behavior “cries for attention.” Yet that is exactly who they are 8212; people who need our attention. These problems will not be resolved simply by ignorance.
YouTube must address and abolish this subculture of self-harm videos, before it finds itself having to answer to the parents of a child who committed suicide.
If you find yourself in need of immediate psychological help, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. If you seek counseling through TCU, call 817-257-7863. As shown above, you are not alone.
Emily Atteberry is freshman political science and journalism double major from Olathe, Kan.