Many newspapers and media outlets are picking up the new Pediatrics study that looked for “self injury” or “self harm” videos on YouTube and were surprised that they actually found them. I’m not sure “study” is the correct word for what the researchers did here, since millions of people each day perform similar “research” (by typing these keywords into YouTube).
From a completely descriptive study — e.g., research that is simply observing what the researchers find online — the researchers nonetheless draw the following conclusion: “The nature of nonsuicidal self-injury videos on YouTube may foster normalization of nonsuicidal self-injury and may reinforce the behavior through regular viewing of nonsuicidal self-injury–themed videos.” This isn’t a conclusion they can draw from their data, of course.
Alternative explanations abound. Could it be that a teen’s peer group has already been engaging in such behavior for years? Or that a person is unlikely to try something just because they see it on TV? After all, how many of us have gone out and killed someone after seeing hundreds (if not thousands) of murders regularly depicted on American television? Does this somehow “normalize” murder? Isn’t is equally as likely that teenagers are sharing mutual experiences, because for some minority of teens, these kinds of behaviors are completely normal already?