Sadfishing: Social media trend threatens teenagers’ mental health, report warns

Pupils seeking support online are being affected by latest trend

Eleanor Busby

Education Correspondent

Tuesday 1 October 2019 07:38 

A new social media trend called “sadfishing” is threatening teenagers’ mental health, report finds.

Youngsters facing genuine distress who seek support online are being accused of jumping onto the same publicity bandwagon as celebrities, according to research commissioned by headteachers.

“Sadfishing” has been used to describe when someone posts about an emotional problem in an attempt to attract attention, sympathy or hook an audience.

The term was coined after a number of celebrities, such as Kendall Jenner, were accused of teasing details about personal issues on their social media sites to drum up publicity and attract more likes.

A new study, by Digital Awareness UK (DAUK), says sadfishing is among the new trends that damage teenagers’ self-esteem, with teenagers reporting that they have been bullied as a result.

The report, which is based on face-to-face sessions with more than 50,000 pupils aged 11 to 16, argues that students can be left feeling disappointed at not getting the support they desire and it can subsequently make their emotional or mental health problems worse.

One Year 7 student told researchers that he used Instagram to share his feelings when he was feeling down due to problems at home.

“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,” the student said.

“Sharing my feelings online has made me feel worse in some ways but supported in others.”

There are also concerns that youngsters could be left vulnerable to online groomers, who prey on them by providing sympathy in order to gain their trust.

The report says: “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,”.

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

“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 goes on to give a case study of a teenage girl who had started a relationship with someone she met on social media through a mutual friend, after sharing her experiences of depression online.

He had responded to her post and shared his own experiences.

The young girl ended the relationship when she discovered he was much older than he claimed and he was pressurising her into sharing explicit images of herself.

Despite these negative findings, the report does also note that youngsters are becoming more tech-savvy and are more likely to manage their own use of technology responsibly.

The study was commissioned by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) – a group of headteachers from some of the most prestigious private schools in the UK.

Chris Jeffery, chairman of the HMC wellbeing working group and headmaster of Bootham School in North Yorkshire, said: “It is encouraging to read of the growing signs of increased control that many young people are taking over their use of technology, but it is also helpful to know new ways in which it is proving to be a burden for them as .”

Charlotte Robertson, co-founder of DAUK, said: “Over the last year we’ve seen the digital landscape evolve at such rapid pace – particularly when it comes to the prevalence of data misuse, access to anonymous platforms and increased sharing of upsetting content.

“This has left many parents feeling overwhelmed by how best to empower their children to navigate the online world safely.”

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