Hello internet users near and far! If you’re reading this, chances are you’re a fan of the internet. Admittedly, I too am a fond lover of the world wide web; but what about the dark hidden corners of the internet?
I think of the internet similar to a large city. Just as a city has the big giant buildings and corporations, the internet has it’s own giants such as Google, Facebook, and so on. Then there are the smaller scale privately owned shops which are the equivalent to this little blog that I’ve got going on. For the most part, cities are wonderful; but there are also those back alleys and unsafe areas that you must approach with caution and never walk through alone (if at all). Unfortunately, these dark places also exist online in many forms, but the one area that I see these dark places manifesting is in online pro-eating disorder, pro-self-harm, and pro-suicide communities.
These communities are dangerous and damaging. These communities thrive on the mental illnesses of people and often operate by preying on people when they are at their weakest. These communities target people who are already struggling and take an issue from bad to potentially catastrophic.
The saddening part about this is that the people who are creating and maintaining such online forums are often just as sick as the people who join them. These people are looking for support and trying to find someone–anyone–who can understand their struggles and provide them with validation. Unfortunately, this “support” often comes in the form of tips and tricks which allow individuals to become sicker and sicker until they are consumed by their illness.
What begins as a community intended to make people feel understood turns into a life threatening community. Unfortunately, with something so large as the internet, it is impossible to prevent these online communities from popping up again and again. But what we can do is educate people about the dangers of such communities. Just as not talking about sexual health does not prevent pregnancy and STDs, avoiding the subject of dangerous mental health forums will not prevent people from seeking them out. We as a society need to take a proactive approach to this issue rather than a reactive approach. We need to help educate people about the dangers of the internet while simultaneously pointing them in the direction of the helpful resources which can also be found online.
It breaks my heart to know that someone somewhere is online right now getting advice about how to end their life or starve themselves down to a life threatening body weight or how to injure themselves worse than they have already been doing. It’s a horrible reality and something needs to be done to prevent these communities from growing in numbers and users. We need to find a way to show people that the dark alleys of the internet are not the places to find support.