Colleagues in the Cyber World
As we noted in the preceding chapter, most of the people we encountered in our early face-to-face interviews worked hard to hide their self-injury and felt the sting of social condemnation and shame. It was only by 2003 or 2004 (and later for many) that the opportunity to meet and talk to other self-injurers online presented itself. As information on this topic began to appear on the Internet, we expected to encounter more subjects who had ventured into the self-injury cyber world, especially since the people we interviewed, as college students, had computer access and literacy. The majority of our face-to-face interviewees, however, even into 2007 and 2008, chose not to, remaining isolated.
When we expanded the focus and recruitment pool for our research into cyber venues, we found people’s experiences vastly different. Self-injurers who ventured online joined people engaged in a host of hidden behaviors who could not or would not congregate in the solid world, to form together into highly social groups and subcultures.
In this chapter we describe the ways that self-injurers’ lives were dramatically changed by their cyber communication, compared to solid-world isolates. Yet it is important to remember that at the same time two important trends were also occurring: many people were choosing not to seek out other self-injurers on the Web, and the extremely large majority of people who did seek and find other self-injurers in cyberspace continued to remain as closeted about their self-injury in their daily solid-world lives as they had before. Ironically, while they were cyber colleagues, they remained deviant loners in their solid-world settings.
Beginning in the early 2000s, people began using the Internet as a self-injury resource for several reasons. Some gathered knowledge for class papers or scholarly research. Others sought information to help their friends, children, or