Catfishing: Do you know who you’re talking to?

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Do you know what catfishing is? No, it doesn’t include a pole and bait.

catfish verbWeb Wise

Catfishing is the act of pretending to be someone you’re not by posting false information or obtaining a false identity online. This term was created from the documentary Catfish that covered the journey of a man that was in an online relationship to later find out he had been talking to someone complete different.

People have many different reasons for catfishing, and some of the reasons aren’t mischievous. Some people may catfish because they have self-esteem issues or out of boredom. Sadly, most individuals that catfish are not using it for these reasons.

A major problem we see with catfishing is cyberbullying. A prime and heartbreaking example of this is the suicide of Megan Meier. According to CBS Newsin 2006, Meier committed suicide after being bullied online by a boy she liked. Later it was discovered that the boy she was talking to on Myspace was actually a neighbor, Lori Drew, aged 49.

She continued this online “relationship” for over five weeks with Meier until sending messages such as “I don’t know if I want to be friends with you anymore because I’ve heard you are not very nice to your friends” and finally sending “The world would be a better place without you.”. After receiving that message, it was less than an hour before Meier hung herself in her bedroom closet.

megan.pngSTL Today

Another issue we see with people creating false identities online is predators. We have all heard the horror stories of adults creating a profile claiming to be a young teen to befriend them and potentially gain personal information about them and their family.

According to the U.S. Department of Justice, only 5% of online predators pretend they are kids, most admit to being adults although they typically don’t disclose their true age. Believing the predator is a young adult can sometimes appeal to targeted young teens.

Some predators will practice “grooming”, a term meaning they look through their social media page prior to starting a conversation to learn more about them personally. They look for interests, friends, and hobbies to create personal discussions to build trust.

Dating has changed drastically over the last ten years thanks to the steady evolution of technology. Most people have either used an online dating service or know someone that has.

According to the Pew Research Center, one in ten Americans have used an online or mobile dating site. Most young people are familiar with apps like Tinder, Bumble, and Hinge whereas the older generations tend to use services like Match and Zoosk.

Over the last few years, it has become more acceptable to use online dating sites and find partners using these sources. It is seen more as a positive activity than it was in the past due to the high number of marriages and lasting relationships that have formed because of sites such as eHarmony, Plenty of Fish, and Match. 5% of Americans that are currently married or that are in a long-term, committed relationship met online.

Since it has become so popular, catfishing through online dating services has also increased. This is a sad fact of the industry, causing many victims to have lifelong trust issues, false hope, and low self-confidence.

Online dating can give singles opportunities to meet new people that they didn’t have in the past but having this chance can also lead to some pretty nasty consequences if they aren’t cautious. According to Global Web Index, men outnumber women on Tinder by 60:40 ratio. This probably isn’t surprising to most, but 12% of these users are in a relationship and a whopping 30% are married.

 

tinderGlobal Web Index

There are several different ways to protect yourself against catfishing and the dangers associated it with for yourself and your family. Once you know the warning signs, it can be much easier to spot a fake profile.

The first thing you can do is looking at their activity and profile pictures. Do they only have one or two professionally taken photos and very little activity on their page? What about their friends? Are their friends mostly one gender or one age? Little details like this can be big hints to finding if someone is who they claim they are. Ask to call or video chat them. If they are who they claim to be, this shouldn’t be a problem. Another way to tell is simply by using common sense. Is this too good to be true? If so, it probably is.

These individuals that use fake photos and names are stealing them from other sources. There are a few steps you can take to protect your pictures that are posted online. Check your privacy settings to make sure they aren’t set to public. Many sites have default settings so everyone that makes an account has a public account unless it is changed manually.

If you think that one of your pictures has been used elsewhere without your permission, you can easily find it with a simple google search by typing the name or uploading the image in the search bar to find it other places. People who catfish typically find images to use from other social media accounts that are inactive.

There have even been instances of people meeting users online that are trying to catfish using their photos. Bustlecovered an interesting story on a man using Grindr, a social networking app designed for Bi, Gay, and Trans individuals. When he got a message from someone using his photos, pretending to be him.

 

grindr.pngThe Daily Dot

The victim, Jack Kennedy, stated “They started sending more photos of me, and I was just sat in bed thinking ‘OK, this guy has to be joking. There’s no way this is happening” and “I went on to ask him for his ‘proof’, which turned out to be a photo of his (fortunately not mine) penis,” Kennedy added. This was not the first time that Kennedy had caught others using his photos to catfish. A few years prior he noticed a Facebook profile using his photo. He mentioned “They attempted to replicate me in as many ways as they possibly could; it was insane,” he wrote. “I suppose it gave me a little confidence boost, but at the same time I can’t help but worry about what these people are doing with my photos—what are their intentions? Are they using the Internet to target vulnerable people whilst masquerading as me?” This is a prime reason why you should take the time to not only watch for signs that you’re being catfished but also ensure others aren’t using your photos to do the same to others.

A major question still stands though. Why do people catfish and how does it benefit them? Some users are just bored, and many of them lonely. According to Phys.org, 41% of users that catfish claim they do it out of loneliness.

Similar to the Megan Meier case, some people want revenge. Revenge on an ex, friend, or even family member. They can lead them on for weeks or months before crushing them emotionally. This can be a surprisingly easy action since the perpetrator knows so much about the victim on a personal level. For the victim, it is easy to fall into this trap if it is done correctly.

Imagine an attractive person messaging you, they just so happen to have the same interests or hobbies as you, the same taste in music, and they are so easy to talk to. Being catfished happens more often than you might like to believe.

Catfishing can be a result of boredom, or it can have a much darker motivation behind it. Although catfishing is not punishable by law, it can have very serious consequences and hold devastating effects for everyone involved.