Sadfishing: a New Phenomenon Affecting Young People Online

It is no secret that many young people today face a whole new world of influence and pressures through online platforms. Twitter, Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, TikTok: these and many more platforms have been added to young people’s media diet, along with the benefits and consequences that come with them. New online phenomenon’s seem to crop up on a weekly basis, but one in particular has recently received a significant, and worthy, amount of attention: Sadfishing.

Sadfishing is when someone is accused of ‘fishing’ for likes and online sympathy through sharing their distress and unhappiness on social media platforms. The trend, which is believed to have been started by Kendal Jenner, was originally seen to be used to hook an audience for publicity and monetary reasons, like driving traffic to a site. Earlier this year, Jenner teased that she was ready to reveal her “most raw story yet.” Social media erupted with speculation around Jenner’s emotional secret, which turned out to be her struggles with acne. The problem: Jenner had just signed a deal with skin care brand Proactiv and used her emotionally charged social media posts to advertise their products. It was from this moment that the term Sadfishing was coined, and people started to get accused of getting sucked into it. While celebrities and public figures were the main focus of initial accusation, the term was soon normalised and used in everyday settings. A recent study from Digital Awareness UK (DAUK) and the Headmasters’ and Headmistress’ Conference (HMC) found that “Sadfishing is being reported by young people as a growing behavioural trend which they are finding hard to manage.”

The report explained that young people who choose to share their mental health struggles online are being accused of Sadfishing, which negatively impacts their mental state further, and notes that a worrying amount of cases have been recorded where students are being bullied for supposedly Sadfishing. The phenomenon of Sadfishing has also made young people more vulnerable to grooming. The report states: “Groomers can also use comments that express a need for emotional support as a platform to connect with young people and gain their trust, only to try and exploit it at a later point.”

It is clear that Sadfishing, like many other online phenomena, are greatly impacting young people today. There needs to be greater attention paid to not only educating young people, but also the people in their communities about the online world and its consequences, such as cyberbullying. The Media Diversity Institute Global is proud to be part of a new project, FACE (Fighting Cyberbullying and Exclusion), which aims to play a key role in this education.

FACE is an Erasmus+ funded project which aims at developing guidelines, materials, networks and innovative methodologies combining multidisciplinary artistic approaches to address the increasing phenomenon of cyberbullying amongst teens and children and the lack of knowledge and tools on how to handle it. Three key resources have now been published on the FACE website, all dealing directly with cyberbullying: Recommendations For Local Politicians And StakeholdersGuidelines For Parents, and Handbook For Youth Workers.

Over the project lifespan, these materials will be disseminated and used to interact with young people and their communities to talk openly about the realities of cyberbullying and discuss how we can fight it. Through more open conversations, terms like Sadfishing will hopefully lose their negative power and young people can take back control of their online world, and use it for good.