Cyberbullying is a huge problem among teens—and an alarming new study finds that sometimes, kids inflict the bullying on themselves. Researchers surveyed almost 5,600 US students between the ages of 12 and 17, and around 6% reported they had engaged in what researchers are calling "self-cyberbullying" or "digital self-harm," per a press release. That means those children had anonymously posted hurtful content about themselves, or sent themselves hurtful messages to which they could then respond; it can happen via texting, email, social media, video games, web forums, and more, HealthDay reports. "It's a new phenomenon, and this is definitely happening," the study's lead author, Sameer Hinduja, tells USA Today. Boys are more likely to engage in the practice, with 7% reporting they'd done so compared with 5% of girls.
Nearly half of the children who'd engaged in digital self-harm gave reasons ranging from wanting attention to a desire to appear victimized so they could justify bullying others. Some reported feeling self-hate, depression, or having suicidal thoughts; others said they were bored or did it in an attempt to make fun of themselves. The biggest risk factor for self-cyberbullying was having been a victim of cyberbullying or in-person bullying from others in the past; other risk factors included identifying as gay, having depression symptoms, having engaged in physical self-harm, having stolen something or seriously hurt someone else physically, and having used illicit drugs. The research was partly inspired by the suicides of an English 14-year-old and a Texas 15-year-old who'd been harassed online; in both cases, officials ultimately found they'd sent themselves harassing messages, study co-author Justin Patchin explains in a blog post. (Read more cyberbullying stories.)