Catfish (According to Urbandictionary.com): A catfish is someone who assumes a false identity on the Internet using various platforms including but not limited to Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. A catfish is often undesirable in comparison to thier profile, as an actual catfish would be to a premium “catch” fish like Alaskan salmon.
A few weeks ago, during a business meeting, a few of my coworkers brought up their obsession with reality television. When several of them began to rave about the MTV show “Catfish”, I immediately assumed that they were referring to some show about actual Catfish farmers or fisherman in the Deep South. You can imagine how silly I looked as I questioned them on why a show about a Catfish farm would be so interesting. After a brief description of the show, however, I decided that I should check it out.
As the Urban Dictionary explains, the Catfish that MTV features on this program is someone who creates a false sense of themselves online in order to lure in unsuspecting and vulnerable for romantic relationships. The show follows the person who is questioning the identity of the Catfish (usually because the person begins to make up loads of excuses to not meet in person). By the end of the show, the viewers find out what the true identity of the Catfish.
After watching a few episodes, I realized that this term Catfish is basically another word for a person with a personality disorder. Most episodes of the reality show leave the viewer as though he/she should feel sorry for this person who has lied about their identity (because usually it shows a deep rooted self esteem issue); however, having lived through a relationship in which I was extremely deceived, I find it hard to have compassion for someone who has engaged in this sort of behavior.
Social Media Catfish:
With the Internet and Social Media so pervasive, it is becoming increasingly easy to create a whole new identity and “false self” virtually. The television show often focuses on those who are hiding their true physical appearance. This is likely why it is so easy for viewers to feel a sense of sadness for the Catfish. In a society that places so much value on physical appearance, many people can relate to the idea of wanting to escape and be someone else for a while – someone that most people would find physically attractive.
The more common (and potentially more dangerous) Catfish, however, is the person who trolls the Internet for his/her mark and intends for the deception to continue in person (or intends to harm the mark financially, emotionally, or even physically). These Catfish focus on creating a bond with their mark before meeting in person so that the mark feels a false sense of trust upon the initial in person meeting. Luc used Match.com as his trolling mechanism. He created the profile based completely on his false self.
Here are some of the lies Luc propagated through match.com:
1) Rising R&B Singer: Luc made himself out to be a young man who had recently been signed by a major record label. If he could have gotten away with telling the world he was an established artist he would have; however, he knew that it would be impossible to pull off something that big. He created enough fake information online about this false career that anyone who wasn’t familiar with the music industry (like me) wouldn’t have initially thought this was strange.
2) College Graduate: Luc’s online profile noted that he was looking for someone with a comparable educational background. He claimed that he had attended Virginia Tech and graduated in Music Engineering. Upon meeting in person, he even had a framed diploma (which was fake) making it appear as though this lie was completely true. In reality, Luc hadn’t even finished High School. Unless I had requested official transcripts from the school, I would have had no way of vetting this lie initially.
3) Name and Age: Unless you are able to get ahold of a person’s Social Security number, this one is really hard to prove. On just about any social media site, you can claim whatever name and age you want without any proof. Luc decided that on match.com he wanted to be 26 years old (he was nearly 40). Had I known he was actually 40, lie number one wouldn’t have been as plausible.
4) Successful Software Businessman: Another lie that is easy to pass off on the web is your profession. For example, does LinkedIn require proof of the profession that you claim? Luc claimed he owned a small software company and this was how he was able to make ends meet while he pursued his music career. He created a website for this company, registered some random software product for a patent, and created a virtual job for himself.
When the Catfish steps from behind the computer:
If the Catfish has completely lied about their appearance, I imagine it usually doesn’t move from behind the computer; however, the most dangerous lies have nothing to do with appearance. In fact, when you meet them in person, and they look enough like their pictures, you might breath a sigh of relief. When I met Luc in person, he looked older than his pictures. When I questioned this, however, he noted that he had shared headshots and they must have been air brushed or something. Given that he still looked like the same person, I didn’t immediately question the other facts about his profile.
Before meeting Luc in person, we had spoken on the phone several times and shared many life experiences and stories (mine were true – his completely fabricated). I felt like I knew him already and this was a danger that I hadn’t known to protect myself from. My normal skeptical nature had been squashed because I believed I had gotten enough background from his profile and our conversations. All of the “background” I felt I had gathered, however, had been a fabrication provided by the Catfish.
Could you be dealing with a Catfish?
Since I started blogging, I have received many letters from women who tell me about how they were in a relationship with someone whom they really didn’t know. Sometimes, these women were married to the men for years before they learn their true identities. They believed they married and had children with an Alaskan salmon, when in reality they married a Potomac River Catfish.
(Note: For those of you outside of Washington, DC – Potomac River Catfish are big and ugly. While fun to catch, the CDC warns against eating them because they are full of dangerous levels of Mercury that when consumed in large quantities can poison you. Catfish are bottom feeders, so if their environment is polluted – they are too.)
Just because you think you know a person, and your relationship has moved beyond the virtual sphere doesn’t mean you aren’t dealing with a Catfish. If you are with someone whose story doesn’t seem to make sense, it might not make sense because they aren’t being honest. In the age of technology it has become increasingly easier to re-invent yourself. Regardless of what appears to be an attempt by popular media to sympathize with the Catfish, I believe this type of Catfish is dangerous and should be treated as such.