(Before I begin, a side note/suggestion: we start spelling it catphish and catphishing, inline with the existing ‘phishing’ — scams that use fake emails and websites to obtain your personal banking and password information)
Been hearing a lot about catphishing (catfishing) in the news lately, haven’t we?
Let’s start with what is a catphish (catfish) or catphishing (catfishing)?
A catphish (catfish), as it is most commonly used, is an individual who engages someone in a fake online relationship. The con, the act of carrying out the deception, is known as catphishing (catfishing). The term ‘catfish’ comes from the 2010 documentary Catfish, documenting a young man building a romantic relationship with a young woman on Facebook, only to discover that essentially everything he knows about the young woman is false.
From the MTV reality show (spawned from/by the documentary) to the Manti Te’o fake dead girlfriend hoax to the recent report about the Washington Redskins, warning their players to steer clear of a person initiating online contact with players using a fake identity, many netizens are now carefully going over their Twitter followers and Facebook friends, reevaluating whether or not the person they know online is who they say they are, or if they even exist at all.
(For more an Manti Te’o, click here, here and here. For more on the Washington Redskins near catphishing, click here, here and here.)
While this may seem like a new phenomenon, I say nay-nay (to borrow a line from comedian John Pinette). We may not be talking about the ‘world’s oldest profession’ as the saying goes, but we are talking about arguably the Internet’s oldest profession – scams, hoaxes, tricking, stealing, conning, pranking, et al. From the Nigerian prince to Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the Internet has quite a rap sheet of-sorts when it comes to acts of fraud and deception.
At the heart of these cyber-crimes are two of the defining characteristics of the Internet – the ability to contact and connect with anyone, anywhere, anytime and the ability to be whoever you wanted (including remaining anonymous). The same technologies that allows people to cross time zones and borders to make friends, collaborate with colleagues, find love and connect with someone on the other side of the world is also the same technology that allows people to steal your passwords, create a false persona, phish for your bank information and cyberbully – anonymously or otherwise (see Tyler Clementi, Amanda Todd, Phoebe Prince, Jessica Logan, Grace McComas, Sarah Lynn Butler, et al)
As the line from scripture (John 8:7) goes – Let he who is without sin cast the first stone. Who among us has not fallen for a deal that seemed too good to be true; received an email saying we’ve won a foreign lottery; received a message from a random person, talking as if you’ve met them; developed a relationship (however deep) with someone they only know online; been the victim of a con or believed a lie they’ve been told; been stabbed in the back by a friend or spurned by an ex-lover; been pranked on April Fool’s Day – shoot, you could arguably include played a casino or carnival/fair game to the list.
The point is – same basic game, just different arenas.
And now, with catphishing (catfishing), the arena has moved online, creating a phenomenon that I call The Cult of Online Personality(TM).
Per Wikipedia, “a cult of personality arises when an individual uses mass media, propaganda, or other methods, to create an idealized, heroic, and, at times god-like public image, often through unquestioning flattery and praise.”
I propose that a cult of online personality arises when an individual uses social media profiles and online activities and interactions to create an often idealized, possibly heroic, but ultimately false persona/person.
In our age of ‘allshare‘ (as I coined in the previous post), our online profiles and actions taken together, stand as representations of us – our likes/dislikes, our thoughts/opinions, our friends, places we’ve been, photos we’ve taken, etc. So, when presented with the same body of online information about someone else, our inclination is to take it as a representation of an actual person. Most of the time, this inclination is correct.
But sometimes it is not. And scammers and those seeking to perpetrate a hoax exploit that natural inclination.
So where does that leave us?
Delete our Facebook and Twitter accounts? (No)
Stop using the Internet all together? (Not realistic)
Never trust anyone ever again? (Possible, but you would have a hard time living your daily life)
It’s just all about exercising a little common sense, doing a little due diligence, taking a majority of what you get online with a grain of salt and a dash of skepticism all the while taking solace in the fact that should you fall victim to an online hoax or scam, you are not alone.