Graphic YouTube videos of people intentionally cutting or burning their own bodies may encourage some teens to also mutilate themselves, according to a study released yesterday by Canadian professors.
“These videos are worrisome because the nature of the images and tone may elicit an urge in those already at risk of self-injury to harm themselves, and may send the message that self-injury is acceptable or that there is little point in seeking help,” said lead researcher Stephen Lewis of the University of Guelph in Ontario.
The study looked at YouTube’s 100 most popular videos that featured people injuring themselves or self-injury photos and descriptions. The videos had been viewed 2 million times and clicked as “favorites” 12,000 times. Eighty percent of the films were accessible to any viewer, and many of them included disturbing images without warnings, according to the study.
Family psychologist Andrea Corn said YouTube gives teens “the illusion of peer social support or sense of belonging” when they post videos.
YouTube defended its site monitoring when asked about the study’s findings.
“YouTube has policies against graphic content and content that encourages dangerous or harmful activities,” a company spokesperson said in an e-mail. The company said it relies on users to flag videos that should be taken down and it restricts certain videos for those who say they are under 18.
Wayne Giampietro, of the First Amendment Lawyers Association, said even though YouTube is not liable for site content if they aren’t creating it, it makes sense to have site rules.
“There have to be limits of some kind for taste and standards,” he said. “And they absolutely have the right to do that as a private entity.”