Cue the virtual violins. Sadfishing’s a new term for a not-so-new trend on social media — and there’s a good chance your teens are doing it. Here’s what you need to know:
Sadfishing is a play off of the term catfishing — which is all about luring people with fake images or profiles — usually to get information or money (or both). This version is similar, but with a more psychological focus: Posts may look like a video of a teen crying along with a cryptic caption, or a slideshow of a family tragedy. What isn’t clear is whether they are true cries for help, or exaggerated stories for attention.
Essentially, sadfishing is when people “fish” for sympathy, attention, or followers by posting sad stories, according to experts at mental health treatment facility Newport Academy. Sadfishing posts often end with a compelling cliffhanger — that makes you want to follow the post, and the person behind it.
TikTok’s full of sadfishing posts, and those videos show up more and more on Instagram now too. Most of it’s coming from teens or young adults sharing sad or traumatic stories, which tug at your heartstrings and make for more “viral” posts.
That brings up a few big issues: First, people may exaggerate these stories to make them more effective at getting sympathy, attention, and sometimes even a massive following or money. Many fans criticized celebrity Kendall Jenner after she shared a story about her time dealing with acne. That story ended up being a paid advertisement.
Sadfishing can also make it harder for people going through genuine mental health concerns to reach out for help online, according to a survey by Digital Awareness UK. Teens truly crying out for help online have actually been bullied after sharing their stories.
So what can you do about it? If you notice your teen watching or sharing these “sadfishing” type on social media, suggest they talk to someone — not their entire following about — it all IRL. That could be a therapist (online apps like Better Help are especially popular with teens,) a family member, trusted friend, or even their very uncool parents.