Tech & The Web

‘Sadfishing:’ The Online Ploy Now has a Name!


Sadfishing is a relatively new term coined to describe a practice that’s nearly as old as social media itself. Now, it has a name.

I had never heard of sadfishing until I saw it in a web article the other day. That article, which appears on the Macmillan Dictionary blog, refers to a news story in The Guardian. The story explains the term evolved from celebrities — or celebrity wannabees — “accused of posting exaggerated claims about their problems in order to gain attention and followers on social media.”

Macmillan explains the word’s use of fish refers to an alternate meaning, the same we mean when we refer to “fishing out information.”

Who knew?

I think we’ve all seen sadfishing before.

I certainly have. I used to know a person who claimed to suffer from a nerve condition. The specific condition has gained more and more attention in the past few years.

It’s one of those conditions that is almost certainly real. But it’s also the kind of condition doctors can’t specifically see. In fact, they diagnose it when they’ve pretty much run out of other possibilities.

That, naturally, leads some people to believe it’s a fake illness. Often, people jump to that conclusion unfairly. But that doesn’t stop them from doing so.

The reason I might suspect at least a little “sadfishing” in this particular case is the frequency at which this person would complain. In fact, I saw regular posts about the condition and how it was painful to make the slightest movement. Yet those descriptions appeared in social media posts that looked like short novellas. Paragraph after paragraph detailed the plight. Even breathing hurt, apparently.

If the slightest movement hurt so much, how was this person possibly able to type so much?

Of course, the posts elicited plenty of sympathy. I quickly began to suspect that the sympathy fed something that otherwise went hungry.

It was as if those who posted messages of encouragement were almost becoming enablers.

Did the person actually suffer from any condition? I definitely think so. But I also think the patient was a little too eager to share every detail of misery.

That sure felt like sadfishing to me.

Have you ever encountered anyone you suspected of sadfishing? Did you respond?

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Patrick is a Christian with more than 29 years experience in professional writing, producing and marketing. His professional background also includes social media, reporting for broadcast television and the web, directing, videography and photography. He enjoys getting to know people over coffee and spending time with his dog.