In Depth

What is sadfishing?

New report says the social media trend leaves vulnerable young people open to bullying

Young people seeking support on social media to deal with their personal problems are instead being mocked and accused of attention seeking, experts are warning.

The growing trend for sharing worries online has been dubbed “sadfishing” by sceptics, who claim such posts are merely attempts to get attention, sympathy or an audience, says Sky News.

But according to a newly published report on responsible technology use, commissioned by Digital Awareness UK (DAUK) and the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), those accusations are causing further harm to young people with genuine mental health problems.

“I got a lot of people commenting on and ‘liking’ my post but then some people said I was sadfishing, the next day at school, for attention,” one pupil told researchers.

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What is sadfishing?

The phenomenon sees people who share their personal experiences being abused and accused of exaggerating their problems, rather than comforted.

“DAUK is concerned about the number of students who are bullied for sadfishing (through comments on social media, on messaging apps or face-to-face), thus exacerbating what could be a serious mental health problem,” says the new digital awareness report.

“We have noticed that students are often left feeling disappointed by not getting the support they need online.”

How did it begin?

According to the report, the term sadfishing and all that it entails “emerged after celebrities, such as the American media personality Kendall Jenner, were accused of posting exaggerated claims about their emotional problems to generate sympathy and draw people onto their sites”.

The name is intended to be “mocking” of young people sharing their experiences, says The Guardian.

What damage is it doing?

Accusations of sadfishing can lead to young people being bullied anonymously online, or even in the real world.

And it can be problematic for vulnerable young people with genuine mental health issues who are looking for legitimate support online. They are “nevertheless facing unfair and distressing criticism that they are jumping onto the same publicity bandwagon”, says the report.

“In some cases, this rejection can damage their already fragile self-esteem and even result in them becoming more vulnerable to sexual ‘grooming’ online,” the report authors add.

They give the example of a girl suffering with depression, who shared her experiences with someone she met on social media.

“He responded to her post and built up a connection with her by sharing his similar personal experiences,” said the report.

“They had never met face-to-face but fortunately she ended the relationship when she discovered he was much older than he claimed he was and was pressurising her to send him explicit images of herself.”

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