"Fat, useless, ugly- I should've died" - the rise of digital self-harm

By Taroi Black

A new report by NetSafe on NZ teenagers and 'digital self-harm' has raised serious concerns, highlighting the need to support rangatahi in online spaces.  One online Māori blogger says she's not surprised by the findings.

Digital self-harm is the practice of anonymously posting and encouraging hurtful and derogatory content about oneself online.  While less prevalent than cyberbullying, the practice is still harmful to a sub-set of rangatahi online.

Markelle Oriwia McNaught says, “It damages our rangatahi in ways that us, as pakeke, don't understand.  The self-doubt within themselves, the mamae that they carry with that to the point where they're [committing] suicide, which is something quite scary to know.”

The 37-year-old set up a weight-loss blog on Facebook about her transformation from being morbidly obese, at one point weighing over 300kgs.  Her negative self-image was fuelled by the cruelty of others online.

“A lot of whānau actually hated me on it [saying] that I was fat, I was useless, I was ugly, I should've died.”

The report found that 6% of New Zealand teenagers have engaged in digital self-harm in the last 12 months.

Netsafe chief executive Martin Crocker says, “Netsafe receives reports of online harassment and bullying all the time.  Some of those cases turn out to be self-harm rather than [bullying].  We've had some of them and they are obviously complex cases to unwind and unravel because the person who has posted it is sometimes quite a difficult place as well.”

Further findings show that self-harm is more common in younger teens and that 65% of teens who had self-harmed said they had done it more than once.

Oriwia McNaught has managed a remarkable transformation and is now on a journey to become a personal trainer, to help improve the lives of rangatahi and others who are facing similar challenges.

“When you've gone through [morbid obesity], and I'm talking 300kgs, down to where I am today, it's great,” says Oriwia McNaught.

Netsafe provides free confidential advice and support for anyone experiencing online abuse or digital self-harm - Call 0508 NETSAFE (0508 638 723)