Tragic: Hannah killed herself last summer after it appeared she had been bullied by online trolls
.Cyber-bullies were blamed when Hannah Smith, 14, hanged herself
.But detectives believe she had been sending vicious messages to herself
.Growing number of British teens indulging in sinister habit of self-trolling
.Find strange comfort in being own harshest critic
.Often it’s a desperate cry for attention
.Fears it could lead to physical self-harm
Every day after getting home from school, the first thing Ellie Thomas would do was switch on her laptop.
Then she browsed her Facebook page, checked for updates from friends she had seen just half-an-hour earlier and commented on the latest cute pictures of her baby niece.
But that wasn’t the only social networking she did. Later, during a break in her homework, she would curl up on the bed and log on to Ask FM, a social network bear-pit where young people pose questions and invite anonymous answers.
There, under her profile name, she would ask a question such as: ‘What is the best thing about me?’
But Ellie didn’t have to wait for a response from her friends, or any of the millions of strangers on the network.
Instead, she logged back in under the name of another user she had created, an alter ego called ‘Staceeey’. Then she scrolled to her question and answered it herself: ‘Nothing. You are no one.’
While her parents, council manager Jonathan and his wife Sue, an office assistant, assumed Ellie was studying for her forthcoming exams, the teenager posted dozens of vicious remarks about herself over the course of a year.
Ellie says: ‘I knew it was me writing that stuff, but on screen it wasn’t me. My own posts would say I was ugly, I was useless, I wasn’t loved… all the stuff going round in my head.
‘If I saw it in black and white coming from “other people”, it helped get it out there and make it real.
‘My friends were trying to stick up for me against these mysterious trolls, so to keep up I had to post insulting messages about them, too, calling them slags.
‘It was killing me to see them get so angry on my behalf and I knew I had to stop. But it was never about hurting people. It was about hurting myself.’
Ellie may never have cut herself. But the teenager was engaging in another form of self-harm, which used words instead of razor blades.
She is one of what seems to be a growing number of British teens indulging in the sinister and habit-forming practice of self-trolling.
Ellie was lucky. When another mother asked Sue how she was coping with her daughter being ‘cyber-bullied’, Sue begged Ellie to tell her what had been going on. She was shocked that her daughter had seemingly kept the hurtful abuse to herself.
Yet Ellie has never admitted to her mother that she posted the comments. To this day her parents think she was a victim of vicious trolling by strangers.
Crippled by embarrassment, Ellie decided to confide in adults who run an anti-self-harm website. To increase understanding of the issue, they shared her story with the Mail this week, providing we changed her name.
Ellie may have found help to beat her habit but not every youngster is so fortunate.
Fourteen-year-old Hannah Smith, from Lutterworth, Leicestershire, hanged herself in her bedroom last summer after messages were posted on Ask FM telling her to ‘go die’, ‘get cancer’ and ‘drink bleach’.
At first, as in Ellie’s case, cyber-bullies were blamed for the abuse. Then her father revealed that detectives believed she had been sending the messages to herself.
Choosing her words with extreme care this month, coroner Catherine Mason said the social network would not be called to the inquest…