Currently submitted to: JMIR Mental Health
Date Submitted: Aug 22, 2019
Open Peer Review Period: Aug 22, 2019 - Sep 21, 2019
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Examining the Self-harm and Suicide Contagion Effects Related to the Portrayal of Blue Whale Challenge on YouTube and Twitter
Research suggests that direct exposure to suicidal behavior and acts of self-harm through social media may increase suicidality through imitation and modeling, with adolescents representing a particularly vulnerable population. One example of viral self-harming behavior that could potentially be propagated through social media is the Blue Whale Challenge (BWC).
We investigate how people portray BWC on social media and the potential harm this may pose to vulnerable populations.
We first used a grounded approach coding 60 publicly posted YouTube videos, 1112 comments on those videos, and 150 Twitter posts that explicitly referenced BWC. We deductively coded the YouTube videos based on the Suicide Prevention Resource Center (SPRC) Messaging guidelines.
Overall, 83.33%, 28.33%, and 68.67% of the YouTube videos, comments, and Twitter posts were trying to raise awareness and discourage participation in BWC. Yet, about 37% of the videos violated six or more of the SPRC messaging guidelines.
These posts might have the problematic effect of normalizing BWC through repeated exposure, modeling, and reinforcement of self-harming and suicidal behavior, especially among vulnerable adolescents. Greater efforts are needed to educate social media users and content generators on safe messaging guidelines and factors that encourage versus discourage contagion effects.
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