If I told you that last March I was sitting in my darkened hallway with tear-stained cheeks, clutching onto a box of Kleenex in one hand and a mobile in the other, what logical explanation would first pop into your head? Young girl has received phone call containing bad news. Bad news – bereavement? Loss? ill health? Disappointment? It’s February and she’s in a school uniform, staring blankly into a dull screen. OK. Young girl has been rejected from Oxford and is now faced with the crippling decision between St Andrews and Durham? That’s more like it. Am I being too adventurous for a feature? Is it time for the truth? Young girl is waiting on the phone call from the ex-boyfriend. We’ve all sat in the hallway and waited on that call. We all also knew that it was never to come.
Disappointed? I’ll bet you are. So let’s spice it up a bit. What if I told you that when I said there was no phone call, I truly meant that there was no phone call? Never any phone call throughout the year-long relationship – never any face-to-face communication, nor speaking, nor seeing, nor meeting. And I’ll tell you why – because the person that I loved does not exist.
[pullquote]Never any phone call throughout the year long relationship – never any face to face communication, nor speaking, nor seeing, nor meeting. And I’ll tell you why – because the person that I loved does not exist.[/pullquote]
I had unwittingly fallen victim to a new internet trend that is fast becoming one of the most popular types of virtual exploitation the 21st century has ever seen. This fad is called ‘catfishing’, and is defined, by Urban Dictionary standards, as “… Someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.”
Catfishing was first introduced to the world in 2010, when US photographer Nev Schulman released a self-produced documentary featuring his own catfishing experience, where he fell in love with a girl called Megan. ‘Megan’ turned out to be a middle-aged and married woman who was looking for excitement in her otherwise stagnant and challenging life. Her husband described her as a ‘catfish’ – when live cod was shipped from Asia to North America, the fish died owing to inactivity, but when catfish were put in the tanks, they were forced to stay alert and active, and ultimately it kept them alive. Since then, the documentary has been turned into a TV show exclusive to MTV, where Nev introduces couples who have fallen in love with each other but have never met. That’s right – the fad has so infiltrated popular culture that MTV jumped on it.
But catfishing is not just found on one side of the Atlantic: virtually everyone with access to the internet has the capacity to be a catfish – or a victim. DailyInfrographic.com recently undertook research surrounding catfishing and the dangers of internet dating, and the results are astounding. While one in every four couples meet online and the online dating industry’s yearly revenues are $1.049 billion, they urge every user to background check their romantic online pursuits. The statistics on why are shocking – 10 per cent of sex offenders have used online dating; three per cent of men online can be classified as psychopaths; 51 per cent of all online dating users are already in a relationship; and an estimated 25 per cent of rapists that were convicted in 2005 used online dating sites to find and communicate with victims.
[pullquote]Virtually everyone with access to the internet has the capacity to be a catfish – or a victim[/pullquote]
Even the most popular and secure sites can have fake profiles. Facebook estimates that 8.7 per cent of their accounts are fake. But people don’t have to be constructing alter-egos to be lying to you. If you could change something about yourself that you hate before you spoke to someone you fancied, you would, wouldn’t you? The answer is here already. A massive 80 per cent of online daters lie in their profile. 17 per cent of women lie about their age and 42 per cent of men admit to lying in some form about their job. The majority of users lie about their appearance no matter what gender; 50 per cent are dishonest about their height, men list their weight at an average of 1.5 pounds less, and women list theirs at 8.5 pounds less.
What is more shocking is that catfishing isn’t explicitly illegal. I spoke to Tom Carty of Police Scotland, and if the catfish doesn’t explicitly ask for indecent images or money, then the emotional exploitation is not punishable by law. Sad, lonely people, who are outwith society, at times leading nomadic lifestyles, usually enact catfishing. They feel rejected by society and so retreat from it – but not before they bring others back with them. Mr Carty stressed that catfishes are smart yet lacking in self-confidence, so they target the vulnerable, such as young girls. They can cover almost all internet demographics in many different forms. There is no downside for the catfish. But all is not lost; Mr Carty confirmed that while the police can’t prosecute catfishes, they can find out who they are.
[pullquote]What is more shocking is that Catfishing isn’t explicitly illegal[/pullquote]
Are you shocked? I was too. But simultaneously, I know how easily catfishes can fool you, no matter how clever, vigilant or sensible you are.
The question is, how safe do you feel? We know that a little lighthearted flipping through Tinder doesn’t harm anyone. But we can never truly know who it is on the end of that screen – and you shouldn’t trust anyone until you do. So please; know that if you’re in the same position that I was a year ago, protect yourself. If they won’t speak to you on Skype, they probably won’t speak to you at all. Love yourself before you love another, and get those privacy settings under lock and key.
For the rest of my story, go to www.ifuleave.blogspot.co.uk.