Following the release of photos suggesting that Justin Bieber was smoking marijuana at a party, the hashtag #cuttingforbieber -- a supposed protest against the star's alleged drug use by way of self-injury -- started showing up all over Twitter on Monday, Complex Music reports.
Initially, it appeared as if teens were cutting themselves as a way to voice their disproval of Bieber's supposed actions. (As Complex Music notes, a few Twitter users appeared to use the hashtag alongside pictures of arms with cuts.) But later the news outlet announced it tracked the hashtag's origins to 4Chan and suggested the posts -- and the photos -- were all a hoax.
Still, as Gawker notes, the hashtag began trending nationally within just a few hours, and the response was fierce. Some users clearly believed the trend was real and made jokes about people who cut, while others admonished the practice and called the notion of fans cutting to protest Bieber's supposed actions disturbing.
The hoax draws attention to an issue that was affecting as much as 15 percent of the adolescent population in 2008, according to the New York Times.
Insensitivity aside, there are bigger problems with such a prank.
Janis Whitlock, a Cornell University professor who has studied teens and self-injury, told The Huffington Post that images of cutting can potentially serve as triggers for those who are already vulnerable or prone to self-injury.
"In the 1990s, there were 14 pop icons that came out and talked about cutting," Whitlock said. "They weren't necessarily advocating it, but they talked about it as part of their history and that really did make a difference in terms of getting it out there into the world as an idea that was then available to young people."
While the hashtag is not likely to attract a new wave of people to the practice, Whitlock said it reinforces the idea of self-injury as a method of expression.
"Ideas are as contagious as germs," she said.
After news of the hashtag spread, both teens and celebrities spoke out against making light of people who struggle with self-injury. On Monday, Miley Cyrus retweeted a post stating that cutting is not something to joke about:
#cutforbieber? Cutting is NOT something to joke about. There are people who are actually suffering from self-harm, this is so disrespectful.
— Official CANCER(@OfficialCANCER) January 7, 2013
The hashtag #SelfHarmIsNotAJoke started popping up as well, with some teens omitting the #cuttingforbieber tag, presumably to not draw more attention to it.
"It REALLY makes me mad when people joke about self harm, eating disorders or suicide...You have NO idea what someone may be going through...," Twitter user @lovatic4lovato wrote.
Twitter did not immediately respond to a request for comment about the cutting hoax, or whether the company has a policy in regard to regulating material of this nature. This post will be updated if more information becomes available.
Perhaps unsurprisingly, 4Chan has messed with Bieber fans in the past. In October, users put out information suggesting the pop star had cancer so that fans would shave their heads in support.
At the time, TechCrunch reported that the hashtag #baldforbieber took off on Twitter after 4Chan supposedly sent out a Tweet from the verified Twitter account of Entertainment Weekly.