It’s a familiar sight: a young person, typically a young girl, posts a video on TikTok, a photo on Instagram, or a joke on twitter, all featuring a self-deprecating comment about their appearance. Almost immediately, the comment sections are filled with the simple fishing pole emoji. This person has been caught fishing.
Urban Dictionary defines fishing as “when an obviously hot [person] insults themself with the intention of having everybody around them disagree with what they said and triggering a barrage of compliments.”
This issue has existed long before the dawn of social media. Many may have witnessed fishing in an elementary school-setting, when one student would say they got the worst grade in the class just to hear a chorus of people touting their lower grades. A lot of people can remember a time when they felt less than stellar and insulted themselves knowing the people around them would disagree with their insecurities. So, why do we do this?
To start, one of the main reasons we do this is because we know that positive reinforcement will come. It can be uncomfortable to be around someone who insults themself in front of you, and often the only way out of this discomfort is by disagreeing with the self-inflicted insults. When we fish, we know these compliments are a knee jerk reaction and not from the heart. These compliments act more as validation that our fears about our appearances are not true.
Social media has allowed fishing to reach a much larger audience than ever before. What was once an annoying practice shared with friends has become a harmful phenomenon. When social media stars fish on their Instagrams, the comments become filled with praise and young followers asking, “If you’re ugly, then what am I?”
Another reason we fish is to find confirmation that we can make unhealthy choices. Before ordering fries instead of a side salad, it is not unusual for someone to say that they “have to lose weight,” just to hear their friends confirm that they are allowed to have fries.
Comments that sound like fishing can often be actual insecurities that people want to share with their friends. Sometimes comments can be a mix of both; sometimes people say things just to hear themselves talk. All of these are valid ways that humans seek validation from their peers, and don’t be fooled — fishing is not a sensation exclusive to females. There are entire subreddits dedicated to men posting selfies of themselves with the direct purpose of finding validation from their peers.
Although it can be harmful, there are parts of fishing that are normal. For example, it is normal to want to have your fears about your appearance assuaged. However, there is a part of fishing that is not only harmful to the speaker, but also harmful to those who have to hear their friends’ or peers’ self-deprecating comments on a regular basis. The next time you are thinking of commenting fishing emojis on a TikTok, think about what that person is actually asking for.