When I was 15 I was struggling with self-harm and suicidal thoughts. I started seeking triggering content on Instagram and tumblr and there was plenty of it, I think I was looking at it because it made me feel less alone, and because there is a sort of ‘addictive’ cycle to these thoughts and behaviours. I ended up taking screenshots on Instagram of posts that encouraged self-harm and suicide, and downloading the ones I found on tumblr. I used these as an escape when I was having a particularly bad day. Eventually my parents started shutting off the internet to prevent me from going on social media. I had printed off the images I had saved/screenshot and kept them secretly in a folder in my bedroom.
In the many years since, my mental health has improved significantly, but there have been times where I’ve relapsed. The algorithm on Instagram (and more recently now TikTok) is so advanced and malicious, that it is like it can sense I have relapsed before I even search for anything remotely related to mental health, self-harm, eating disorders, etc. Even when you try to search for help on these platforms, to try to find users who are promoting recovery and positivity, you can end up with recommendations that show the opposite, which have been suggested to you because of their link to mental health/illness.
One of my best friends has two 18 year old sisters, and I’ve seen the same thing happen to them in the last 2-3 years, more on TikTok now, and certainly made much worse by the pandemic and the isolation that young people experienced in the last couple years.
I’m lucky that my mental health has gotten much better and I am very aware of the content I view on social media. I now actively try to reduce my exposure to anything that could be triggering by blocking or muting certain accounts and tags, but I know that it is still all out there for vulnerable people to find, or to have suggested to them.