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Attention or Authenticity? Understanding the Recent Social Media Trend 'Sadfishing' & its Impact

Attention-seeking behaviour including ‘sadfishing’ has become viral on social media in recent times.

If you scroll through any social media feed regularly, you will surely encounter some cryptic self-worth quotes, posts about own struggle, and so on. Relevant, right? It's not because of your friend list, its has become a global trend on social media to share attention-seeking posts. In this article, we will discuss about this popular trend, reasons, and impacts.

What is Sadfishing?

Sharing stories of personal struggles on social media to receive sympathy is known as sadfishing. These people talk about struggle, share motivational quotes, or sometimes target some while talking about ‘Karma’. This term was first introduced in 2019, originated from journalist Rebecca Reid's critique of a social media post by Kendall Jenner. She shared stories about her skin issues, which was eventually part of a marketing campaign.

Behavioural specialist and researcher Cara Petrofes defined ‘sadfishing’ as “the tendency of social media users to exaggerate their emotional states to garner sympathy.”

Why Influencers Use Sadfishing Tactics?

Petrofes, in her research paper explained: “Our research showed that those who are anxiously attached tend to seek validation through others and need consistent friend activity and a higher number of online/in-person friendships.”

She further added: “This leads us to believe that perhaps those with an anxious attachment and a correlated negative interpersonal experience are more likely to engage in maladaptive online behaviours such as feigning depression or sadness online to garner the support they feel doesn't otherwise exist.”

Attention-seeking or Authentic Outreach?

According to USA-based psychotherapist Tess Brigham, it's natural human tendency to sadfish. He explained: “It used to be that someone would ‘sadfish’ at the church picnic or a happy hour by telling everyone about their horrible day, and everyone would gather around.”

She also shared that rise of social media has totally changed this approach: “But that's not our world anymore, so this is how people get attention.”

Usually, the difference lies in intention. It is undeniable that some people seek mental support through social media during their tough times. However, some people actually perform Sadfishing by sharing their heartbreak moments to gain public’s attention.

The virtual world sometimes blurr the reality which deceives the target audience.

According to Nicole Saunders, a licensed clinical social worker in Charlotte, North Carolina, “Sadfishing has a negative connotation because it seems like a ploy where the goal is to gain attention through ‘likes’ or social media engagement.”

How to React to Sadfishing?

As it's highly confusing to discriminate between the attention-seekers and people who seek genuine help, here are expert recommended steps to follow if you come across such posts. Tess Brigham told: “If the person needs connection, then offer it through genuine friendship. Say a few kind words and then move along. I don’t think saying anything rude or making this a teachable moment by saying, ‘Hey you’re sad-fishing and you shouldn’t do that’ is really effective or going to change anything.”

We are living in a society where majority of the people need support to survive the mental health crisis. Thus, reaching out with concern is always a good idea.