A social media trend called ‘sadfishing’ is harming the mental health of children and leaving them vulnerable to grooming online, a new report says.Sadfishing is when someone posts about an emotional problem in an attempt to attract attention, sympathy or hook an audience.
The phenomenon has been driven by celebrities who have been accused of posting exaggerated claims about their emotional problems to generate sympathy and draw people onto their sites.The latest celebrity to share their mental wellbeing is Justin Bieber, who told his 119 million Instagram followers: “It’s hard to get out of bed in the morning when you are overwhelmed with your life.”
He said that although he had lots of “money, clothes, cars and awards” he still felt “unfulfilled”.
But some commentators were quick to accuse him of inflating his problems.
“Wake up and smell the coffee, there are people out there in situations 500 times worse than yours,” said one.
“Stop playing the sympathy card to be in the news to stay relevant,” added another.
The new study, by Digital Awareness UK (DAUK) found that young people with genuine mental health issues who legitimately seek support online are nevertheless facing unfair and distressing criticism that they are jumping onto the same publicity bandwagon.
In some cases, this rejection can damage their already fragile self-esteem and even result in them becoming more vulnerable to sexual ‘grooming’ online.
“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,” the report says.
“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.”
In one case, a teenage girl started a relationship with someone she met on social media after sharing her experiences of depression online. He had responded to her post and shared his own difficulties.
But the young girl discovered that she was being groomed by a man much older than he claimed to be and he started pressuring her into sharing explicit images of herself.
The study, commissioned by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) is based on face-to-face interviews with more than 50,000 children aged 11 to 16.
Author: Jamie Johnson