Is YouTube Influencing Teens To Commit Acts Of Self-Harm?

A new study has found over 5,000 YouTube videos on self-injury. These disturbing videos are attracting millions of views and psychologists fear that they may be serving as "how to's" for troubled teenage viewers.

A new study has found over 5,000 YouTube videos on self-injury, featuring live enactments and graphic photographs of people cutting and burning themselves. These disturbing videos are attracting millions of views and psychologists fear that they may be serving as “how to” tutorials for troubled teenage viewers.

CBS News reported on the pediatric study, ‘The Scope of Nonsuicidal Self-Injury on YouTube’, saying that “Canadian psychologist Stephen Lewis, a study co-author, said he found more than 5,000 YouTube videos on self-injury. The study focused on 100 videos the authors found in December 2009.”

According to the study’s abstract, the videos were easily found through YouTube’s search engine, searching for the key words “self-injury” and “self-harm”. The researchers took the top 50 most-viewed videos that had a character (i.e. a live individual) and the 50 most-viewed non-character videos for the study. They found that these videos had been viewed over 1 million times, were given high positive ratings, and were favorited over 12,000 times. 28% of the character videos had in-action non-suicidal self-injury in the video, most commonly cutting, and 90% of non-character videos showed graphic photographs of self-injury. More than half of the videos did not warn about this graphic content.

Psychologist Stephen Lewis said that both parents and mental health professionals need to be aware of this content. He pointed out that videos of this nature might actually be perpetuating the issue, making it easier for teens to learn how to cut themselves and partake in other non-suicidal self-injury.

A YouTube spokeswoman said that the video site has strict policies against graphic content, as well as content that encourages dangerous behavior and activities, and that self-injury videos have been removed from the site. However, with over 36 hours of video being uploaded each minute it’s not possible for YouTube to remove all of this content.

According to CBS, Barent Walsh, a therapist who has also authored a book on self-injury treatment, “said it’s well-known that photos and websites about self-injury can trigger the behavior in people who already self-injure or who are tempted to do it. But he said the study results are important and raise concerns that YouTube “may well be the most powerful influence of them all because of its nature.””

Check out the CBS News video below to find out more (warning: some of the imagery is graphic and unsettling) and let us know what you think in the comments. Are you surprised that over 5,000 self-injury and self-harm were found on YouTube?