Catfishing is the new sport of the Internet, and while tons of teens are getting onboard with the trend, it’s much more risky than most people think.
What is “Catfishing”?
You may have heard the term “catfish,” but that doesn’t mean you know what it refers to. “Catfishing” is when two people meet online and one (or both) of them ends up not being who they said they were. The catfish will steal someone else’s identity in order to create a new identity on social media. The term comes from a documentary about a young man who traveled to meet the girl he’d been talking to online, only to find out that she was not at all who she said she was. “Catfish” is now a popular show on MTV.
According to UrbanDictionary.com, “A catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not…to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.” Some people go above and beyond simply creating a new online persona, though. There are people who have faked serious illnesses, like cancer, in order to raise money. Predators also use catfishing as a way to lure in much younger children by preying on their emotions.
Manti Te’o’s Story
Shortly after the television show “Catfish” became popular, a very public example of the phenomenon was splattered all over the news. Notre Dame’s linebacker, Manti Te’o, lost his girlfriend to leukemia. Sounds heartbreaking, right? Except Manti had never actually met his girlfriend in person – they only had an online relationship – and “she” was actually a fervent male fan posing as a woman. Also, Manti’s lover didn’t die – the cancer battle and death were entirely fabricated. Manti was crushed and shocked, making the rounds to talk about his experience on air and serving as a warning to anyone who’s in a fishy online relationship.
Why Does This Happen?
There are several different reasons why someone would pose as another person online. Sometimes, a person who’s looking for a romantic relationship is afraid that if they’re 100% themselves, nobody will be interested in them. As a solution, they create a persona that reflects the person they want to be, but not necessarily the person they already are. Other times, creating an online identity can be much more personal. A catfish can be someone that the person who’s being tricked already knows in real life – the catfish could be an unhappy client, an ex-boyfriend or a former friend. Or, they can be someone who’s fooling the victim because they don’t agree with their sexuality, morals or beliefs, and they want to get back at them.
3 Tips for Protecting Your Kids From Catfishing
1. Follow the news to stay on top of stories about catfishing and share these stories with your kids. Discuss how emotions can get out of control when catfishing occurs and that even though there’s usually no physical harm being done, emotional harm is still detrimental. A lot of stories about catfishing have tragic endings.
2. Help your kids develop online “street smarts.” It’s important for everyone, especially young kids and teenagers, to be savvy about the Internet and social media. Help them to understand how to spot a scam and what the dead giveaways of a fake profile are. Give your kids examples of the many different lies someone might tell them online.
3. A lot of parents don’t want to infringe on their child’s privacy, but it’s extremely important to monitor computer usage. In the end, it’s better to save them from a harmful situation than to know you didn’t do something when you could have. There’s plenty of monitoring software for parents on the market that can be downloaded and installed without your kids knowing it’s there.
Janet Wilson is a professional blogger that provides news and information on finding a Florida internet sex crimes attorney. She writes for Musca Law, sex crimes defense attorneys.