People take their behavior and personality wherever they go, and that includes online social platforms, where attention-seekers find a whole new playground and a massive audience for their antics.
The phenomenon has been given an appropriately “internet” name, too – “sadfishing.” It describes those who go online to solicit sympathy over their made-up or purposefully overblown problems. Like most annoying things online, this, too, was invented by influencers and other celebrities of various and dubious types, who use it as a business tactic to gain more followers and likes.
But now, British educational authorities seem to think that the internet’s short patience with this type of behavior might be causing problems in the real world, among ordinary young people. According to a new report from Digital Awareness UK this would be the case when youths who are experiencing real mental distress turn to online platforms and communities for assistance but fail to receive enough of it.
These online places famously lack emotional context because they lack actual human contact and interaction. For that reason, it’s easy to see why such behavior, even when genuine, might easily be misconstrued as an attention-seeking stunt.
A conference of UK private school headmistresses and headmasters has heard, referring to a Digital Awareness UK study based on responses from 50,000 students, that some of them described the reaction to their decision to share their depressed feelings online as a mixed bag. Namely, some of those who engaged with them expressed support, while others accused them of “sadfishing.”
The study also suggests, citing an interview with one student, that too much support could also turn out to be a problem, as potential child abusers might feign sympathy to gain their victims’ trust.
But others seem to suggest that the lack of complete support might be tantamount to online bullying, which the report said is a considerable problem among students in England.
It’s hard, however, to tell who is being bullied here – those in genuine need of help-seeking emotional support on the internet of all places – or those on the internet forced to suffer attention-seekers and other narcissists. The sad answer is: probably both.