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What is catfishing?

Catfishing is when someone uses images and information (often taken from other people’s social media accounts) to create a new identity online – sometimes using an individual’s entire identity as their own. Newly created social media accounts can then be used to damage the reputation of the true owner of the identity, or alternatively any fictional identities that are created using other people’s images and information can be used to form dishonest relationships online. Although catfishing used to be seen more among adults using online dating platforms, it has now become a more widespread problem among adults and teenagers. Some people who catfish go to extreme lengths to create fake identities – having multiple social media accounts with the purpose of building up and validating their catfishing profiles.

Why is it called catfishing?

Although the practise of catfishing has been around almost as long as the internet, catfishing only gained its name in 2010 after a documentary titled “Catfish” was released. Catfishing then went on to became a recognized term in 2012 after the MTV series “Catfish” premiered.

Why do people catfish?

People choose to catfish other people for a variety of reasons. Some of the reasons people catfish include:

  • Insecurities – Someone might choose to catfish another person due to their own personal insecurities. They might consider themselves ‘ugly’ or ‘not good enough’ and feel more comfortable using the images or identity of another person that they consider ‘attractive enough’ or ‘worthy’.
  • Mental illness – Somebody suffering from some forms of mental illness might feel too anxious to reveal their true or authentic self. Someone suffering from depression might have very low self-esteem and feel like they are not ‘good enough’. There are many different conditions that can make people feel that the only way they can communicate with people effectively or with confidence is by pretending to be somebody else.
  • Hide their identity – Somebody who wants to hide their identity when using social media might use another person’s images and/or information. They might want to hide who they are to troll others, talk to people outside of an existing relationship or in some cases, they might catfish with the intention of trying to extort money from the person they have targeted.
  • Revenge – Some people use catfishing as a tool of seeking revenge on previous partners or people they consider ‘deserving’. Those seeking revenge often create social media accounts, which use the victim’s images and information in order to humiliate them or damage their reputation. They can also use fabricated identities to lure the person into a fake relationship to hurt them emotionally.
  • Harassment – Some people set up multiple catfishing accounts to maximize the emotional impact when harassing someone online. They might set up several social media accounts because the recipient of the harassment has blocked their initial catfishing account or they might do it to create the impression that there are growing numbers of people participating in the abuse, in an attempt to overwhelm the victim.
  • Exploring sexual preference – When someone is confused or curious about their sexuality, they might create false profiles so they can confidently explore their curiosity without having to reveal their true identity.

The most common reason people will catfish others is a lack of confidence. If people aren’t happy with themselves, they feel that by being someone more attractive, they are fully able to express themselves freely without their insecurities holding them back.

The effects of catfishing

When someone is catfished, it can be extremely damaging to their mental health – especially if they are emotionally invested in a friendship or romantic relationship with the catfisher. Victims of catfishing can find it extremely difficult to trust after their experience – affecting relationships both personal and professional.

As well as the emotional devastation that someone who has been catfished can potentially go through, they can also face embarrassment and regret for believing and ‘falling for’ a completely non-existent person. Financial loss and mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression can all come about because of catfishing.

If the person that has been catfished has sent any explicit images or ‘sexted’ with the catfisher, the victim will feel that their trust has been completely betrayed and become paranoid that they might be exposed publicly in the form of revenge porn or be sextorted by the catfisher in the future. This can lead to serious longterm problems such as anxiety disorders and depression.

Signs that you might be being catfished 

It can difficult to spot a catfish. Although the signs you might be getting catfished can be different for each situation, some of the most common signs that you could have fallen victim to catfishing include:

  • They don’t have many friends or images on their social media accounts – When someone is catfishing, they will have to take the photos they choose to use from another source. Most commonly, they will take images from someone else’s social media account. Because the images are taken from an authentic source, catfishers have no control over when or what is posted so will only have access to a few images at a time – when the ‘real’ person shares images themselves. They might also have very few friends and show little or no interaction with them online.
  • They never want to video call – Someone who is catfishing, will not want to video call if they are using another person’s identity. In order to avoid video chatting, catfishers make up excuses. They might say their webcam is broken or they’re always too busy.
  • They don’t want to meet up – For obvious reasons, catfishers will never want to meet up. To avoid this, some catfishers will agree to meet up with you (to seem more authentic) only to back out at the last moment.
  • If they don’t use Snapchat – It sounds strange but Snapchat has now become so popular that if somebody is active on various social media platforms but doesn’t use Snapchat, this could be suspicious. Snapchat is based around sharing ‘live’ selfies – making it impossible to use images taken from other people’s accounts. If you are being catfished, they might say they don’t use snapchat or add you on it and then refuse to send you a photo of themselves.

Although most people feel confident that they would know if they were communicating with a completely fabricated identity, it is also very easy to assume after seeing a few images and some conversation that you are communicating with exactly who you are looking at in the images! It is important to remember that although many of the signs that you are being catfished listed above can be indicative of something sinister – they can also be completely innocent too.

How can I prevent being catfished?

Avoiding getting catfished can be very difficult, because of the sheer volume of people we interact with online each day. Therefore it can be difficult to check each identity for authenticity, however there are tips to prevent or reduce your chances of being catfished. Some of the ways you can prevent being catfished are:

  • Being cautious – When talking to anybody that you don’t know online, always remain slightly cautious, especially if you have only just started speaking with them or have no solid evidence that they are who they say they are.
  • Never giving out money – Some catfishers will target people in order to scam money from them. You should never give money to anybody who asks for it online.
  • Taking your time – Always be careful when sending images or sexually explicit messages to another person online. Once you press send, it can’t be taken back!
  • Talking to someone – If you have concerns about someone you are speaking to online, confide in someone you trust. Tell them about your concerns as they may be able to help you identify any “red flags” you may have not noticed yourself. New perspectives often bring new solutions!
  • Not being afraid to ask questions – As uncomfortable as it might be, don’t be afraid to ask as many questions as you need to in order to feel comfortable talking to someone. If they are a catfish, they might not be able to answer all the questions accurately and then you’ll be more likely to know that something isn’t right.
  • Adjusting your privacy settings – Catfishers will commonly look for potential victims to target, and by having your privacy settings adjusted on your social media accounts to ‘private’, you are less likely to fall victim to catfishing because nobody can see the information on your profile.