Have you been hooked into an online relationship? You may have been Catfished.
Meet Cassie, and Steve– her total babe of a music producer fiancé. Actually just meet Cassie; because Steve’s not here, in fact even Cassie hasn’t met Steve. The two started a relationship after chatting on Facebook. They texted, chatted on the phone every day and two and a half years later Cassie asked Steve to marry her. Cassie has only ever seen six photos of him and they never Skype because Steve’s just too busy in the studio. Sorry to break it to you Cassie, but Steve is a catfish.
In 2010 a new online predator was brought to light in the form of a movie-length documentary called Catfish. The producers of the acclaimed documentary film Nev Schulman and Max Joseph followed the movie with a TV series in which they seek out possible victims.
The Catfish is a cruel and deceiving individual with questionable motives who hides behind fake profiles on online platforms like Facebook and dating websites.
It’s uncertain as to why it has been coined “catfish” but one of the more popular understandings of the term comes from the literal catfish, a bottom dwelling scavenger that preys on the weak. There are two types of Catfishes; the ones that will find vulnerable victims, develop online relationships, manipulate, bully and possibly use as a financial crutch. The other Catfish knows their victim, chooses to pretend to be someone else in order get the victim to fall in love or trust the catfish for some sort of twisted personal gain.
Relationship counsellor Gia Ravazzotti from Conscious Intimacy says many online perpetrators are “People with low self esteem who believe that who they are in real life is not good enough. They adopt an alternative persona which they perceive to be more desirable.
“Things such as looks, profession, body type and even gender. Becoming a different person makes it easier for them to interact as they don’t have to be open to rejection.”
For whatever reason they do it Catfishing is a dangerous and psychologically damaging phenomena that nobody is safe from, with Facebook reporting over 8.7 per cent of profiles in 2012 were fake.
Just ask Australia’s Casey Donovan who admits to a six-year telephone relationship she had with a man named Campbell, who isn’t even real. She had never met him because her close friend Olga, a woman she was sexually involved with, invented him.
Similarly, NFL star Manti Teo’s online girlfriend Lennay Kekua, who he had never met in person died a few months after the couple met online. She didn’t actually die, because dying is something reserved for those who actually exist.
Catfishers are indiscriminate, often asking their online suitors for large amounts of money under the pretence of visiting them. The FBI recently reported these bottom-dwelling online scammers are responsible for over $50 million of losses alone in the US, targeting over 5000 victims in 2011. It’s not only financial damage catfish victims have to deal with.
“People who have been catfished will no doubt experience issues ranging from mild lack of trust in others to developing a deep mistrust of the world, depending on the intensity of the relationship and how deeply they felt connected to the other person,” says Ravazzotti.
Just ask Tim Greenfield a 16-year-old victim of catfishing who was lead to believe he was involved in an over-the-phone relationship and divulged sexually explicit content. The girl he thought he was fraternising with turned out to be a he and the school bully who used the relationship to gain photos he could use against Tim.
“I will always find it hard to trust people now, I don’t think I’ll ever risk speaking to someone I’ve met online ever again,” he says.
Moving on from something like that would prove difficult Ravazzotti explains “It is important to allow the feelings arise from this experience and feel them fully before they move on. Processing and understanding the impact of being catfished is a first step to moving towards healing.”
Now that you know what it is and what it does there are a few ways to avoid it happening to you. It’s important to ensure you are not getting caught up in the flattery of the attention you may get from online suitors and to keep your game face on. Avoid getting involved with people with photos that appear overly edited, and overly attractive. “Often a picture which is very photoshopped or looks ‘too good to be true’ is a sign that a profile is fake,” says Ravazzotti.
If you have only seen seven or less photos, and they have fewer than 100 friends on Facebook this should ring alarm bells. Check the area code of their phones. If your online buddy claims they live in Melbourne but they have a Sydney area code you should probably bail! If this person speaks to you regularly for a period longer than a year, but you have never met them, put on your skeptic glasses and do a little digging. Finally, listen to your gut. Ravazzotti warns “If you sense a lot of contradictions and changes of facts and information while you get to know the other person, this could be a sign of a fake profile.” Alternatively you can just watch the amazingly addictive show and Nev and Max will turn you in to catfish detectives.
To avoid ending up like Cassie’s fake fiancé, remember, you never know who’s lurking in the murky waters of cyberspace.
– Bree Hetherington
Top photo compiled by Bree Hetherington.