Vulnerable young people who go online to seek support can find themselves being bullied and accused of “sadfishing”, a report has said.
While many find comfort by sharing their experiences, some young people are being targeted and accused of exaggerating their problems in order to gain attention – a social media phenomenon that has been given the mocking name of sadfishing.
A report by Digital Awareness UK (DAUK) based on face-to-face interviews with 50,000 schoolchildren says young people are becoming more tech-savvy and are increasingly using technology with responsibility and common sense. But it says that accusations of so-called sadfishing could be further harming already vulnerable children and young people with mental health problems.
Sadfishing evolved as a term after celebrities such as the reality star Kendall Jenner were accused of posting exaggerated claims about their problems in order to gain attention and followers on social media.
“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 said. “We have noticed that students are often left feeling disappointed by not getting the support they need online.”
One schoolboy told researchers he used Instagram to share his feelings when he was feeling down because of 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. Sharing my feelings online has made me feel worse in some ways but supported in others.”
The research also found that vulnerable youngsters could be targeted by groomers who prey on them by providing sympathy and sharing their own experiences in order to gain their trust. In one case study a teenage girl started a relationship with someone she met on social media through a mutual friend after sharing her experiences of depression.
“He responded to her post and built up a connection with her by sharing his similar personal experiences,” the report said. “They had never met face-to-face but fortunately she ended the relationship when she discovered he was much older than he claimed he was and was pressurising her to send him explicit images of herself.”
The research, which involved pupils from across the state and private sector, was commissioned by the Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC), which represents 300 of the leading independent schools in the UK and is holding its autumn conference in London this week.
Chris Jeffery, the chair of the HMC wellbeing working group and headmaster of Bootham school in York, said: “Mobile technology and social media are now an inescapable aspect of the landscape of the lives of the young people that we care for in our schools.
“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 well.”