What is sadfishing? Everything you need to know about the new Gen Z online trend

'Sadfishing' is an internet trend inspired, in part, by Kendall Jenner. (James Devaney/GC Image

‘Sadfishing’ is a word that has been thrown around in abandon by journalists and social media analysts alike, but it defines something that’s all too common.

It’s simple. It describes when someone shares their personal problems online to get sympathy – likes, shares and heart reacts only.

The phenomenon comes in various forms, whether it’s the high-school pal who posts ‘having such a bad day :(‘ but then gives no reply to concerned commenters, or Kendall Jenner posting about a “raw and personal” announcement she’s going to make earlier this year.

Fans speculation swirled, some suspecting the highest-paid model in the world was going to come out as queer.

But the revelation earlier this year was simply her being the ambassador for Proactiv, a skincare company famous for its acne treatments.

Sadfishing was born.

Sadfishing is in no way a new thing. 

The Metro.co.uk first coined the term to describe Jenner’s drummed-up decree, where Kris Jenner commended her daughter for “being so brace and vulnerable” and sharing her “raw story”.

This was in January. Nine months on, and sadfishing has, mental health campaigners warn, only gotten worse.

According to new research by Digital Awareness UK (DAUK) released this week, the trend of hooking audiences with exaggerated claims is concerning campaigners.

From face-to-face interviews with over 50,000 UK pupils aged 11 to 15, the report found that sadfishing not only exists but that it has real, offline negative effects.

Commissioned by headteachers, the report concluded that sadfishing ends not in the poster feeling perked up, but feeling more disappointed.

Instagram grids, usually filled with filtered smiling selfies, have now become, for some young people, a leather couch to express their issues on.

As one year seven student admitted, he would regularly post about problems he’s having at home. The likes and comments rolled in, but his fellow students accused him of doing it for attention.

“Sharing my feelings online has made me feel worse in some ways but supported in others,” he said.

He’s not alone, however, as many students reported being bullied as a result of sadfishing.

Sadfishing can be ‘deeply affecting’ for those who receive backlash, say mental health advocates 

“Sadfishing might sound like just another online buzzword, but it is a highly complex issue,” CEO of Get Safe Online Tony Neate told PinkNews.

The advocacy group found through their in-house research that half of young people are let their guard down on social media. “Any backlash they receive over their digital behaviour is likely to be deeply affecting,” he added.

“Like all age groups, Gen Zs are still learning how to conduct themselves online, and they will make mistakes along they way. It’s all a part of growing up.

“Parents and teachers must encourage an open dialogue to keep improving behaviours and ensure a safer use of the internet.”

DAUK researchers echoed this, describing how, by opening up online, young people expose themselves to negative criticism. And it can be difficult to define what is a genuine cry for help and what is a cry for attention.

But what researchers also warned about groomers and how they can “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,” researches explained.

In one example, a teenage girl said she spoke candidly about her depression online. Soon after, she began a relationship with someone much older than he claimed to be, who had responded with his own experience of mental health.

“Over the last year we’ve seen the digital landscape evolve at such rapid pace – particularly when it comes to the prevalence of data misuse, access to anonymous platforms and increased sharing of upsetting content,” said Charlotte Robertson, co-founder of DAUK.

“This has left many parents feeling overwhelmed by how best to empower their children to navigate the online world safely.”

Ultimately, while it’s unlikely that a young teen’s “raw” and “vulnerable” Facebook status is going to be about a skincare brand partnership, what sadfishing shows is that Gen Z are real human beings with real problems.

Whether they open up from a laptop screen or over a cup of coffee, maybe we should all start taking them a little bit more seriously.