Earlier this month, Netflix released “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist,” a two-part documentary chronicling the catfishing story of Manti Te’o. Catfishing stories were popular before “Untold” came out on Netflix. And if you’ve ever heard tales of catfishing, you may have thought the odds of getting catfished were slim.
But as we continue to live our lives on the internet, it becomes more and more likely that you will encounter a catfish. Here’s everything you need to know about catfishing – and how to prevent it from happening to you.
What is catfishing?
According to cybersecurity firm Fortinet, catfishing “refers to when a person takes information and images, usually of other people, and uses them to create a new identity for themselves.” This is usually done entirely online.
Catfishers usually create fake profiles on dating apps or social media platforms, such as Facebook. They will contact people through social media or dating apps to start a romantic relationship under false pretenses.
Why is it called catfishing?
The term comes from the 2010 documentary “Catfish,” where TV host and producer Nev Schuman begins an online relationship with a woman named Megan. As the documentary continues, it is revealed that the woman Schuman corresponded with was actually a fisher-cat named Angela Wesselman-Pierce. Instead of being the single young woman she claimed to be, Wesselman-Pierce was a married woman with two children.
In the documentary, Wesselman-Pierce’s husband explains the situation with a catfish metaphor. It tells a story about shipping cod from Alaska to China. By the time the cod reached China, the fish would be “boiled and tasteless”. So to combat this problem, fishermen would put catfish in with the cod to “keep the cod nimble”.
Vince Pierce, Wesselman-Pierce’s husband, ends his story with this insight: “And there are these people who are catfish in life. And they keep you on your toes. They keep you guessing, they keep you thinking, they keep you fresh. And I thank God for catfish because we’d be funny and boring and boring if we didn’t have someone nipping at our fin.
This is where the documentary gets its name, as well as Schuman’s popular TV series, “Catfish: The TV Show”.
How was Manti Te’o caught?
In 2009, Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o became friends on Facebook with a woman named Lennay Kekua. Their friendship turned into romance and they dated until 2012 when Kekua is believed to have died of leukemia.
The death of Te’o’s girlfriend received high profile when it was revealed that Kekua was a fake social media profile created by Naya Tuiasosopo. Tuiasosopo became a transgender woman.
Throughout the duration of their relationship, Te’o and Tuiasosopo never met in person. They communicated entirely online or through text messages and phone calls. This is how Tuiasosopo managed to convince Te’o that she was a woman named Lennay Kekua.
Te’o’s story is the subject of “Untold: The Girlfriend Who Didn’t Exist”, a two-part Netflix documentary.
Why do people fish?
In 2018, Eric Vanman, a social neuroscientist at the University of Queensland, interviewed 27 catfishers to identify why they catfish. Here is what his research revealed:
- Forty-one percent of participants mentioned loneliness. Other participants cited “a lonely childhood and ongoing struggles with social ties.”
- A third of participants mentioned insecurity with their physical appearance.
- More than two-thirds of participants said they used catfishing as a means of escape.
- Some participants used false identities to experiment with gender or sexual orientation.
Surprisingly, many catfishermen have expressed guilt over their deception. One participant said, “It’s hard to quit addiction. More than a third of the participants expressed a desire to tell the truth.
At the end of his research, Vanman concluded that there is no easy solution to catfishing. “Catfishing will likely become a more common side effect for this particular generation.”
Is catfishing illegal?
In 2021, Utah State Rep. Karianne Lisonbee, R-Syracuse, introduced HB239. The bill would make using someone’s name or persona without their permission online “with the intent to harm, defraud, intimidate, or threaten an individual” a third-degree felony in Utah.
Lisonbee spoke to Fox 13 about catfishing, saying, “It can have very serious and detrimental consequences in people’s lives.”
Governor Spencer Cox signed HB239 in March last year.
Is catfishing abusive?
Although catfishing itself is not abusive, it can lead to abusive behavior on the part of the angler. Catfishing can lead to behavioral control, emotional and verbal abuse, financial abuse and more. It can also be used by child predators to groom children online.
How to Avoid Getting Catfished
As we continue to use the internet, it becomes more and more likely that you will encounter a catfish. Here’s how to avoid being catfished:
- Keep your social media profiles private. This way it will be harder for catfishers to get information about you. In addition, you will be able to control whoever asks to follow you.
- Be skeptical. Use common sense when talking to a stranger online. If you start talking to someone who seems too good to be true, it probably is.
- Meet in person. When you meet someone on a dating app or site, insist on meeting them in person and in a public space. If they’re making excuse after excuse to meet in person, they might be a catfish.
- Use reverse image search. If you come across a profile with pictures that look suspiciously good, you can do a reverse image search on Google. You will be able to identify if the images are fake or from someone else.
Are you catfishing?
It is not uncommon for relationships to arise online. But when browsing social media and dating apps, it’s important to be aware of the signs of catfishing. Here are some things catfishers often do:
- Avoid video calls or face-to-face meetings. This could be one of the biggest indicators of a catfish. According to VPN Overview, catfishers don’t want to reveal their true identities, so they’ll never agree to meet you in person and make a video call.
- A new social media profile. If someone has a newer profile, with only a few friends and followers, that could potentially be a red flag. This could indicate that a catfish created the profile specifically to reach you.
- Some photos on social networks. Catfishers often create new profiles for their victims, which means they probably won’t have many photos on their social media profiles. Be on the lookout for profiles that have photos that were all posted at the same time. Catfish profiles are also unlikely to be tagged in photos by other people.
- Avoid sending yourself a selfie immediately. If you ask a catfisherman for a selfie, they might send you one right away. This is because they have to search to find a selfie of the person they are impersonating.
- They ask for money or explicit photos or videos. While people who are not impersonating others may ask for money or explicit videos, it is often the goal of catfishers to get money or explicit material. As a general rule, never give money to someone you’ve met on the internet or explicit videos or photos of yourself.