Hannah Smith: Even More Tragic Than Originally Thought

Posted by Justin W. Patchin on August 16, 2013

hannah_smithMany are now familiar with the tragic case of Hannah Smith, the 14-year-old from Leicestershire, England, who hanged herself on August 2nd after reportedly being harassed online for months. Cruel messages received principally on the social media site Ask.fm are being cited by her father and others as a primary cause of the suicide, though rarely is it that simple. Even though our research has shown that experience with bullying (whether online or off, and whether as a target or perpetrator) is associated with an elevated risk of depression and suicidal thoughts, this is far from proving that bullying causes suicide.  Peer harassment is just one of many factors that contribute to increased risk of suicide. As we concluded in our paper “…it is unlikely that experience with cyberbullying by itself leads to youth suicide. Rather, it tends to exacerbate instability and hopelessness in the minds of adolescents already struggling with stressful life circumstances.”  After her death, Hannah’s father found a note that read: “As I sit here day by day I wonder if it’s going to get better. I want to die, I want to be free. I can’t live like this any more. I’m not happy.” Hopeless indeed.

The tragedy has taken an even darker turn as there is now emerging evidence that the hurtful messages sent to Hannah may have actually been sent by Hannah herself. Upon investigating the suicide, Ask.fm officials noted that 98% of the messages sent to Hannah came from the same IP address as the computer she was using.

While the investigation is ongoing and there is so much that we still don’t know about what led to Hannah’s death, it is worth noting that “self-cyberbullying” is not a new phenomenon. danah boyd, social media guru (and new mom!), wrote about “digital self-harm” back in 2010, focusing on behaviors observed on the now defunct formspring.me, a social media site that operated a lot like Ask.fm (with the public answering of questions sometimes posed by anonymous people). “There are teens out there who are self-harassing by ‘anonymously’ writing mean questions to themselves and then publicly answering them,” danah wrote. And last year, Massachusetts Aggression Reduction Center researcher and Psychology professor Elizabeth Englander found that up to 10% of college freshmen admitted that they had “falsely posted a cruel remark against themselves, or cyberbullied themselves, during high school.”

Those who harm themselves physically (usually by cutting, carving, or burning) are hurting and desperately searching for relief from some perceived insurmountable shortcoming. It is often a coping mechanism to distract from pain in other areas of their lives. They feel as though they have no other options and resort to a last ditch effort to bring some sense of normalcy or routine to their life. If left to fester, self-harm can eventually result in the ultimate harm to oneself—suicide—though usually the two behaviors are distinct.

And even though some might assume that those who choose digital forms of self-harm are at a reduced risk of physical self-harm or suicide (suggesting perhaps that these youth don’t actually really want to hurt themselves), Hannah’s case certainly casts doubt on that hypothesis. Desperation and despair can lead people to do things that may seem completely irrational to the rest of us.  But to them, it appears to be their only option.

To be sure, much more work needs to be done to explore this hidden side of cyberbullying. We don’t know how much self-cyberbullying is really going on and whether the causes are comparable to other forms of self-harm. As danah aptly points out, however, irrespective of who the perpetrator is, targets of cyberbullying need help. “Teens who are the victims of bullying – whether by a stranger, a peer, or themselves – are often in need of support, love, validation, and, most of all, healthy attention.” If you would like help with thoughts of suicide, please contact the Suicide Prevention Hotline at: 1-800-273-TALK. In the U.K. you can call The Samaritans at 08457 90 90 90.

27 Responses to “Hannah Smith: Even More Tragic Than Originally Thought”

  1. [...] concise but thorough blog post on “self-cyberbullying” & the Smith case by Prof. Justin Patchin of the Cyberbullying Research [...]

  2. [...] phenomenon. It appears all this information was probably lifted from a blog post published on the Cyberbullying Research Center website 3 days [...]

  3. […] has become a very visible threat this summer.  Rehtaeh Parsons, Gabrielle Molina, and Hannah Smith were all victims of different forms of online and mobile cyberbullying and Rebecca Ann Sedwick has […]

  4. DucatiRider says:

    Wow, people work so hard to avoid blaming the parents or the child.

    Despite the fact that she bullied herself, it is somehow someone else’s fault.

    Who gives a 14 year old unrestricted access to the internet?

    So. Much. Fail.

    • justme says:

      how is it unestricted you cant be “that parent” and look over their sholder all the time they need freedom.

      • tricky says:

        You can be ‘that parent’ if it means your child isnt put in a position to be bullied. I personally dont allow my children on the internet. They live in the real world if they want friends they can make real ones…letting children spend countless hours infront of computers Is irresponsible and lazy parenting full stop.

  5. woz24 says:

    people today are so mean and i dont know why

  6. […] the connection understand that, like any association in the social sciences, it is often much more complicated than simply X causes Y. There are a number of known factors related to suicide that, combined with […]

  7. Rio knock says:

    Hannah was my best friend/girl friend. Not even joking. Miss her so much. Ilysm. Never forgotten love you bby xx

  8. […] to an article at http://cyberbullying.us/hannah-smith-even-more-tragic-than-originally-thought/ , Hannah received several harassing messages on a social networking site known as ask.fm. […]

  9. […] the connection understand that, like any association in the social sciences, it is often much more complicated than simply X causes Y.” But, as Patchin went on to say, “I think it is just as […]

  10. […] association &#1110n th&#1077 social sciences, &#1110t &#1110&#1109 &#959ft&#1077n much more complicated th&#1072n simply X causes Y.” B&#965t, &#1072&#1109 Patchin w&#1077nt &#959n t&#959 […]

  11. […] the connection understand that, like any association in the social sciences, it is often much morecomplicated than simply X causes Y.” But, as Patchin went on to say, “I think it is just as […]

  12. rashell says:

    i fill bad r.i.p you all love you

  13. Sam says:

    Tbh, If you cant handle the hate. Get off the website.

  14. Random says:

    If you can’t handle the hate then turn anonymous off, or get off of that website, you are asking for hate going on a website where all bullies can do is hate anonymously. Though just get off. It was a website for fun, now all it is is a shitty website no one likes.

  15. […] to an article at http://cyberbullying.us/hannah-smith-even-more-tragic-than-originally-thought/  Hannah received numerous harassing messages on the social network site ask.fm. Huffingtonpost.com […]

  16. […] What disturbed me even more was what she went on to tell me – about cyber self harming. This involves someone with low self esteem trying to find out what others think about them – whether they have the same low opinion. Someone will set up a blog/social networking page under an alias and then post negative comments about him or herself, linked to his/her real page. Egged on by these comments others too will post – and the recipient will be able to wallow in ever growing self loathing and doubt. This is, allegedly, what Hannah Smith also did. […]

  17. […] the added persecution was an added factor in the unfortunate death Hannah Smith, a 14 year old cyberbullying victim. On August 2nd, the young girl’s body was found in her room by her sister. The teen hung herself […]

  18. hannah smith says:

    my name is hannah smith

  19. I got this site from my friend who told me concerning this
    website and now this time I am browsing this web site and reading very informative content
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