Self-harm: Detection and Support on Twitter

Muhammad Abubakar Alhassan, Isa Inuwa Dutse, Bello Shehu Bello, Diane Pennington

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Since the advent of online social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, useful health-related studies have been conducted using the information posted by online participants. Personal health-related issues such as mental health, self-harm and depression have been studied because users often share their stories on such platforms. Online users resort to sharing because the empathy and support from online communities are crucial in helping the affected individuals. A preliminary analysis shows how contents related to non-suicidal self-injury (NSSI) proliferate on Twitter. Thus, we use Twitter to collect relevant data, analyse, and proffer ways of supporting users prone to NSSI behaviour. Our approach utilises a custom crawler to retrieve relevant tweets from self-reporting users and relevant organisations interested in combating selfharm. Through textual analysis, we identify six major categories of self-harming users consisting of inflicted, anti-self-harm, support seekers, recovered, pro-self-harm and at risk. The inflicted category dominates the collection. From an engagement perspective, we show how online users respond to the information posted by self-harm support organisations on Twitter. By noting the most engaged organisations, we apply a useful technique to uncover the organisations' strategy. The online participants show a strong inclination towards online posts associated with mental health related attributes. Our study is based on the premise that social media can be used as a tool to support proactive measures to ease the negative impact of self-harm. Consequently, we proffer ways to prevent potential users from engaging in self-harm and support affected users through a set of recommendations. To support further research, the dataset will be made available for interested researchers.

Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationProceedings of the 8th European Conference on Social Media, ECSM 2021
EditorsChristos Karpasitis
PublisherAcademic Conferences and Publishing International Limited
Number of pages11
ISBN (Electronic)9781713832263
ISBN (Print)9781914587009
Publication statusPublished - 1 Jul 2021
Externally publishedYes
Event8th European Conference on Social Media - Virtual, Online, Cyprus
Duration: 1 Jul 20212 Jul 2021


Conference8th European Conference on Social Media
Abbreviated titleECSM 2021
CityVirtual, Online

Cite this