According to Jess Fletcher, there’s no denying it: we live in a digital age. These days, nearly everyone has a website, or a Twitter profile, or a Facebook account. In this online world we live in, a new term has been coined. Ladies and gentlemen, beware of the catfish.
A catfish is a person who creates a fake online persona. There are a few reasons why being a Catfish would be attractive. For example, a person who is lonely or in some way socially stunted may create an alter ego, through which they can live out the type of fantasy life that may be out of reach to them in the real world. Some of them seek out friendships, others, romances. Some Catfish even profit from people they’ve been speaking to on social media by pretending to be ill or in some way down on their luck, conning money out of people to help with their supposed cancer treatment or to pay their bills after they’ve lost their job.
You may be asking how could anyone be so gullible that they would allow themselves to be taken advantage of like that. Unfortunately, it seems to be surprisingly common. The term ‘catfish’ comes from a 2010 feature-length documentary of the same name. The film follows Yaniv ‘Nev’ Schulman, a 24-year-old New York-based photographer who believes that he is developing an online friendship with a beautiful, shy young woman called Megan, even beginning to fall in love with her. But aspects of Megan’s life seem questionable, and as some simple online snooping sheds more and more light on her lies, Nev discovers that Megan is really Angela, a married, middle-aged woman who gave up a career to care for her husband’s severely disabled sons. Angela created Megan as a way to escape from a life in which she feels trapped.
The documentary was screened at Sundance Film Festival and was such a success that Nev now hosts a spin-off show, dedicated to helping people find out if their online friend or love interest is all that they appear to be. And, you guessed it, most of the time they are not. In the two-season history of the show, only a handful of the relationships have progressed beyond the initial meeting. Women, who for a catfish is a person who creates a fake online persona. There are a few reasons why being a Catfish would be attractive. For example, a person who is lonely or in some way socially stunted may create an alter ego, through which they can live out the type of fantasy life that may be out of reach to them in the real world. Some of them seek out friendships, others, romances. Some Catfish even profit from people they’ve been speaking to on social media by pretending to be ill or in some way down on their luck, conning money out of people to help with their supposed cancer treatment or to pay their bills after they’ve lost their job.
You may be asking how months had thought they were talking to men, were actually, it turned out, talking to other women. Some catfish even turned out to be people that the victims knew in their real day-to-day lives.
As crazy as it sounds, it seems that it is possible to become close to and even fall in love with someone you’ve never met. In the advent of online dating websites, it’s even become somewhat of the norm to meet new people online. But that doesn’t make it any less dangerous. Despite best intentions, it is entirely possible to let down your guard when you feel comfortable enough with someone you’ve been talking to for a while. And if it can happen to anyone, it’s becoming increasingly important to protect children and impressionable young adults from becoming victims. The following three suggestions should help.
Despite the dangers catfish pose to Internet users, there are fantastic tools available that can help you check references. If you’re talking to someone you’ve never met, there’s no shame in Googling their name, making sure that they are really employed where they say they are, or running their photo through a Google image search. Don’t think of it as dishonest – think of it as protecting yourself. You’ll be surprised by how much you can find out on your own.
INSIST ON PROOF OF IDENTITY
There’s no need to be demanding about this. Simply suggest a video chat over Facetime or Skype. If they are who they say they are, they should have no trouble making this happen. If you feel the person is making excuses for too long – their webcam is broken, or there are always people around – you’ve got a right to be suspicious.
TEACH YOUR CHILDREN WELL
In the world of Twitter, Facebook and MySpace, it’s completely normal to be “friends” with someone you don’t know. It’s important to educate kids and teens about the dangers of speaking to new people online. Complaining about their parents and the amount of homework they have is one thing, but if they’re being coerced into handing over credit card information, or even sending explicit pictures of themselves to the cute guy who’s a friend of a friend, that’s another matter entirely.
As long as the Internet exists, catfish will be negotiating its waters. As long as you and your loved ones are aware of the dangers, you can rest easy.