Self-harm hashtags up 500 percent on Twitter: research

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The prevalence of Twitter hashtags related to self-harm has increased about 500 percent in the past year, despite many of those posts violating the platform’s policy on the subject, according to a new report. 

The report from the Network Contagion Research Institute, an independent research organization that studies misinformation and hate on social media platforms, and Rutgers University states that users have made tens of thousands of posts per month related to self-harm since October. Many of the posters appeared to be adolescents and young adults, according to the report. 

The report states that 5Rights, a United Kingdom-based children’s digital rights charity, alerted Twitter to the hashtag #shtwt, which stands for “self-harm Twitter,” in October. 5Rights said the platform’s algorithms were promoting profiles that use this hashtag to other users who were searching “self-harm” instead of connecting them with resources to help. 

Twitter said it blocked tweets using the hashtag and other related ones in response, but posts related to self-harm have grown exponentially since the company was notified about the matter in October, the report states. As a part of that overall rise, the institute found the number of posts with hashtags related to #shtwt have also specifically been increasing.

Twitter policy bans users from promoting or encouraging suicide or self-harm, including but not limited to by asking other people for encouragement to commit self-harm or suicide or by sharing information, strategies or instructions for doing so. 

A Twitter spokesperson did not immediately return a request from The Hill for comment. 

The report states that posts with the hashtag #shtwt are usually accompanied by images of severe and potentially life-threatening self-inflicted wounds. The posts are “praised, celebrated, and encouraged” by some users, it said. 

The institute also found rapidly growing Twitter communities that glorify eating disorders and mass shootings, saying these signal that its discoveries on self-harm and suicide appear to be the “tip of the iceberg.” 

Researchers additionally found evidence that predators who claim to be minors have engaged with these online communities to further encourage self-harm, according to the report.

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