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Teens Using ‘Secret Hashtags’ To Share Imagery Which Encourages Self-Harm

Graphic Pictures Of Self-Harm Appearing On Photo Sharing Sites Instagram And Tumblr

According to an article on BuzzFeed, vulnerable people have found a way to bypass site moderation and post imagery encouraging self-harm. Users have begun using ‘secret hashtags’ in order to find each other, and the number of people involved is said to be growing. It’s thought that people are joining these communities to avoid the perceived shame of seeking professional help. Instead, they’re anonymously finding – and even encouraging – others who share their issues.

While most of the offending tags are policed (a picture uploaded alongside #suicide, for example, will be swiftly removed), others are used as a way to sneak under the radar and express messages which the site’s TOS explicitly forbids. Instagram claims that “any account found encouraging or urging users to… cut, harm themselves, or commit suicide will result in a disabled account without warning.”

The damage which posts breaking these rules could cause to someone is limitless. But they're leaking through.

Nicola Survanshi, director of programs and operations at non-profit organisation Reachout, is quoted in the article as saying that “people who are posting on Facebook or in forums just kind of need to get that information out of themselves and put it somewhere.” People are joining these Instagram sub-communities because they feel they have nobody else to talk to. This is doubly worrying, as the temporary release given to contributors may be enough to discourage them from seeking the professional help they need.

However Scottye Cash, described as a lead researcher on a study on the issue, detailed why more and more people are flocking to these groups. She claims they give people the sense that they aren't facing their problems completely alone – and, more importantly, there are others out there like them. Asked whether Instagram should ban these ‘secret’ hashtags, Cash is said to be “ambivalent.” Rather than campaigning to stamp these communities out, Cash suggests that Instagram should “connect teens to get help in other ways.”

Fortunately, this is exactly what they have started doing. Searching #suicide will link users to a suicide prevention website, which is filled with the sort of information which genuinely helps to save people's lives. This is an important first step, but should Instagram be doing more to curb its users from glorifying self-harm

Until they do, Instagram’s users are doing their best to stem the tide of negative imagery themselves. In an effort to encourage users not to give up, people are uploading photographs full of positive messages - and attaching the same secret hashtag. It’s a wonderful example of people power, and hopefully it will go some way to helping people who have probably convinced themselves that no-one out there is listening.


Emile is a postgrad from the University of Saint Mark and Saint John. He’s hoping to break into journalism or publishing, and won’t stop blogging until he’s managed it! Follow him @EmileAtSMF.

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Teens Using ‘Secret Hashtags’ To Share Imagery Which Encourages Self-Harm Reviewed by Emile Cole on Monday, September 08, 2014 Rating: 5
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