Research has documented the widespread availability of graphic images of self-harm, such as cuttings, on the photo-sharing platform Instagram. After a British father said his 14-year-old daughter had viewed such explicit images on Instagram prior to her suicide, the platform announced that it would no longer allow such graphic images to appear.
But little is known about how often such graphic images reach Instagram’s users and whether they have an effect on viewers.
A new study by researchers at the Annenberg Public Policy Center and two European institutions is the first to investigate the relationship between exposure to self-harm on Instagram and subsequent self-harm and suicidality-related outcomes in young adults.
The research, published in the journal New Media & Society, analyzes data from an online survey of young adults conducted at two points a month apart, in May and June 2018, prior to Instagram’s announcement that it would seek to reduce images of graphic self-harm. The two-wave survey was completed by 729 U.S. adults ages 18 to 29. Over 80 percent were women.
The researchers found that people who reported having seen self-harm images on Instagram at the first interview were more likely than those who didn’t to report their own self-harm at the second interview. The study also found that exposure to self-harm on Instagram at the first interview predicted higher levels of suicidal ideation and risk for suicide at the second interview.
Read more at the Annenberg Public Policy Center.