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What is breadcrumbing and why is it an online trend?

By Dhrubaa Ghosh,

No, this is not an eating disorder, but a negative internet phenomenon youngsters need to know about.

Someone who breadcrumbs leads on by dropping ‘crumbs’, like an occasional message, a phone call, or sharing date plans that do not happen.

Since the beginning of 2020, online dating has gone up immensely. It’s not just teen speciality, even mature people can become seriously involved with a person who is actually a profile picture or, even worse, an emoticon. Apart from Facebook and WhatsApp friends, dating apps such as OKCupid, Tinder, and Bumble are proliferating. The problem is that not everyone is sincere. Armed with fake photos, inaccurate relationship statuses, offensive comments, and impolite internet behaviour, wrongdoers are having a gala time on the web. One such alarming, though not criminal or dangerous, behaviour is breadcrumbing. 

What happens in breadcrumbing? 
Bread crumbs are sometimes used to lure mice and birds into traps. Breadcrumbing is leading someone on to get virtually romantically involved, on online spaces, and holding their interest, even when the perpetrator has no actual intention to even become you never intend involved. It's basically an emotionally manipulative tactic designed by online flirts to make someone dependent on them, and derive pleasure from another person’s eagerness which is not going to be answered.  Someone who breadcrumbs leads on by dropping ‘crumbs’, like an occasional message, a phone call, sharing date plans that do not happen, or chatting on social media. Though it cannot be called legally wrong, it’s a very cruel thing to do.  

What are the reasons for breadcrumbing?  
If this activity yields no monetary benefits or sexual satisfaction, why are some people twisted enough to try it? And why would teenagers do it so much as to make it a bad online trend? Sometimes teenagers want to prove their own ‘worth’ to themselves, by getting others to validate it. Breadcrumbing is a proof that they can raise and maintain interest levels, without being bothered about the consequences to the other person. It’s terrible, but it is gratifying to those who suffer from low self-esteem, are ostracized or bullied, are bullies, or just mean in real life.   

Sometimes they are also narcissistic. Adolescence creates a strange self-love and they feel justified in manipulating others to like their image. Educators and counsellors are worried about the lack of guilt. Many teens involved in breadcrumbing think it’s a game, and they are playing it. Some of them might already have a real-life boy or girlfriend, but still seek attention online as they don’t want to ‘miss out’.