Sadfishing. Is It a Cunning Social Media Trend or Cry For Help?


You’ve probably seen someone sadfishing while you’re on social media, even if you don’t know what it is.

You might have even done it yourself a time or two.

It usually looks like a vague social media post alluding to someone’s emotional state, or it might be an ambiguous photo or an emotional quote.

The post is usually accompanied by comments asking what’s wrong, offering emotional support, thoughts and prayers, messages or life, and toxic positivity platitudes like “everything happens for a reason” or “you can only go up from here”.

Source: X

So, WTF is Sadfishing?

An Alarming Social Media Trend

Sadfishing evolved from the humble brag. The humble brag is when someone posts about something they’ve accomplished but downplay it to appear modest and shy about it.

It’s when people post really dramatic or over-the-top stories about their problems on social media to get attention and sympathy from others. Think of it like fishing for compliments, but instead, they’re fishing for compassion; “Oh no, that’s terrible!” or “Stay strong, we’re here for you!”

It’s a deliberate action to make problems seem way bigger or sadder than they really are just to get more likes and comments. Sometimes, this can make it hard to tell who really needs help and who’s just looking for attention.

Source: Facebook

Celebrity Beginnings

The term became popular when it was discovered Kendall Jenner’s posts about her debilitating struggle with acne turned out to be a marketing ploy for Proactiv. It was often used to describe celebrities who shared ‘cryptic’ posts about something affecting their mental health that turned into sales pitches.

But now it’s become a term for anyone who uses their emotional problems to hook people. They share just enough to garner interest and sympathy.

Why Are Teens Sadfishing?

The line between public and private becoming increasingly blurry online and posting/sharing is becoming the primary communication method, particularly for young people. Sharing personal struggles with mental health has become second nature.

And this goes a long way to reducing the stigma around mental health, leading to more people being open to treatment. Until it goes too far in the opposite direction.

Sadfishing is when this sharing becomes exaggerated, excessive, and manipulative to gain more followers, likes, and attention or for material gain.

What Are The Risks?

I mean, we’ve all heard about the boy who cried wolf, right? Someone who’s known to ‘sadfish’ is less likely to be believed when they genuinely need help.

And others who are honestly reaching out with a cry for help might be dismissed by family or friends.

I have done this myself. When I’ve been overwhelmed, I’ve shared a meme I feel says what I can’t. Unfortunately, no one knows if someone is in serious need, or trying to get attention.

Sadfishing can attract the wrong kind of attention from trolls, predators, and bullies.

How To Recognise Sadfishing

Figuring out teenagers is like Mission Impossible, but there are some signs of sadfishing you can be on the lookout for. And if you’re in doubt, talk to your teen. I’d rather embarrass mine by pulling them into a deep and meaningful than miss something important.

Some of the signs of sadfishing are:

  1. Frequent Emotional Posts: A pattern of dramatic posts about their feelings, vague messages indicating something might be wrong, and messages of worthlessness and hopelessness.
  1. Emotional Replies: When their friends or family comment on their posts, they respond with more ambiguous words to amplify their distress.
  1. Contradiction: If the person they are online clashes with the person they are offline, they might be sadfishing.
  1. Validation over privacy: They would prefer to get attention online rather than confide in trusted people.
  1. Ignoring help: They keep talking about their problems online but don’t follow any advice they get. Even if people give them lots of good suggestions or support, they don’t seem to get better or make changes. It’s like if they keep saying, “I’m really sad,” but never try anything to feel happier.

Sadfishing isn’t a black-and-white thing. Be aware of the circumstances around what your teen is posting compared to how they are offline and always keep lines of communication open. If you see anything concerning, put on your parent hat and have any necessary conversations.

What to read next 

Avatar of Tina Evans

Tina Evans is a complete introvert, an avid reader of romance novels, horror novels and psychological thrillers. She’s a writer, movie viewer, and manager of the house menagerie: three kelpies, one cat, a fish, and a snake. She loves baking and cooking and using her kids as guinea pigs. She was a teenage parent and has learned a lot in twenty-three years of parenting. Tina loves Christmas and would love to experience a white Christmas once in her life. Aside from writing romance novels, she is passionate about feminism, equality, sci-fi, action movies and doing her part to help the planet.

Write A Comment

Share via
Copy link