Self-harm is the infliction of pain or injury onto oneself. Historically these behaviors have been relegated to the fringes of communities. Technology now enables new ways to foster and encourage these dangerous activities. The HCI field possesses few examples of scholarship focused on self- harm. This research focuses on characterizing the presentations of non-suicidal self-harm behaviors within social computing platforms. Building on these characterizations, we can begin to look at diagnostic tools, clinical practice, and tools to better understand how we can start connecting online activities related to one's mental illness to the physical presentation, detection, and treatment related to their disease.
Initially we described the shifting nature of lexical patterns associated with self-harm behaviors online. These lexical transformations highlight online practices to evade censorship by the community-at-large or the social media platform itself. Understanding these practices was pivotal in setting an accurate foundation to build upon so we can better understand the real behavior that is taking place online related to these behaviors - the terminology is a gatekeeper to finding the authentic posts online. We used the outcomes to refine data collection processes across several platforms. We then analyzed this data for the types of information being shared within social media platforms. These types included “thinspiration”, the eating disorder journey, diets & food, and connections to other mental health issues like anxiety, depression, and bipolar disorder. Finally, we worked directly with clinically diagnosed patients and providers to validate the activities we uncovered online and explored their social media use leading up to initial treatment.
Through this work, we have developed an extensive corpus of self-harm related terminology so that researchers in this space have more accurate data to use when trying to uncover these behaviors. This data can be found here.
Manager, Health Services and Informatics Research Parkview Research Center
Parkview Research Center
Regents Professor / Director, Institute for People & Technology
Lauren Reining, MS
Parkview Research Center
Director, Health Services and Informatics Research Parkview Research Center
Connie Kerrigan, MBA, BSN, RN
Director, Community Outreach
Parkview Behavioral Health
Certified Eating Disorder Specialist
Farrington Specialty Counseling
Alycia Brown, MD
Parkview Physicians Group
Parkview Behavioral Health
Clinical Director, Eating Disorder Treatment Program
Park Center, Inc.
Pater, J.A, Farrington, B., Brown, A., Reining, L.E., Toscos, T., and Mynatt, E.D. (2019). Exploring Indicators of Digital Self-Harm with Eating Disorder Patients: A Case Study. Proc. ACM Hum.-Comput. Interact. 3, CSCW, Article 84 (November 2019), 26 pages. [pdf]
Pater, J.A., Reining, L.E., Miller, A.D., Toscos, T., and Mynatt, E.D. (2019). “Notjustgirls”: Exploring Male-related Eating Disordered Content across Social Media Platforms. In Proceedings of the 2019 CHI Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI ’19). Association for Computing Machinery, New York, NY, USA, Paper 651, 1–13. [pdf]
Pater, J.A., Mynatt, E.D. (2019). Understanding Cultural and Gender Differences of Eating Disordered Behaviors on Social Media . Proceedings of the 26th AED International Conference on Eating Disorders (ICED). New York, NY.
Pater, J.A. and Mynatt, E.D. (2019). Best Practices for Qualitative Data collection with a Vulnerable Patient Population. Presented at the Qualitative Research Methods for CSCW: Challenges and Opportunities. ACM Computer Supported and Cooperative Work and Social Computing Conference. Austin, TX [pdf]
Pater, J, and Mynatt, E.D. (2018). Characterizing the Presentation of Eating Disorders Across Social Media Platforms – Lexical Variations and Behavioral Archetypes. Proceedings of the 25th AED International Conference on Eating Disorders (ICED). Chicago, IL.
Pater, J.A. and Mynatt, E.D. (2018). Does my research trigger you? Designing studies for patients with eating disorders. Workshop Paper: Conducting Research with Stigmatized Populations. ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work Social Computing. Jersey City, NJ [link]
Pater, J, and Fiesler, C. (2018). Does the Punishment fit the “crime”? Online harassment policies and the case of self-harm. Workshop paper: Understanding Bad Actors, ACM CHI Conference 2018. Montreal, Canada. [pdf]
Chancellor, S., Kalantidis, Y., Pater, J. A., De Choudhury, M., & Shamma, D. A. (2017). Multimodal Classification of Moderated Online Pro-Eating Disorder Content. In Proceedings of the 2017 Human Computer Interaction Conference (CHI 2017). ACM. [pdf]
Pater, J., & Mynatt, E. (2017). Defining Digital Self-Harm. In Proceedings of the 2017 ACM Conference on Computer Supported Cooperative Work and Social Computing (pp. 1501-1513). ACM. [pdf]
Pater, Jessica A., Oliver L. Haimson, Nazanin Andalibi, and Elizabeth D. Mynatt. (2016). "Hunger Hurts but Starving Works”: Characterizing the presentation of eating disorders online. In Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing, pp. 1185-1200. ACM, 2016. [pdf].
Chancellor, S., Pater, J. A., Clear, T. A., Gilbert, E., & De Choudhury, M. (2016). #thyghgapp: Instagram Content Moderation and Lexical Variation in Pro-Eating Disorder Communities . In Proceedings of the 19th ACM Conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work & Social Computing (pp. 1199-1211). ACM. [pdf]
Why digital self-harm is hidden in plain sight
We can't afford to be in the dark about digital self-harm
How pro-eating disorder posts evade filters on social media
Pro-eating disorder communities modify hashtag terms to perpetuate the movement