In Cyber Safety, Internet Safety Trends, Parents, Social Media

What is Catfishing? A Cyber Safety Alert

In the online world, the term “Catfishing”, refers to the practice of setting up a fake online profile, usually for the sole purpose of luring another into a romantic relationship. Catfishing is when you pretend to be someone you are not on Facebook or other social networks or even through email to create a false identity to deceive someone into developing an online romance.

You may be reading this and wondering, what is the big deal? Everyone gives false information online or that it is sometimes a good outlet for emotions to be someone else online for a while.But you do need to know what is Catfishing, trust us.

It may be all fun and innocent games at first, but there are so many times where it goes from fun to deadly in no time.

Let’s examine the case of Megan Meier, in 2006, Megan,16, began an online romance with someone her age named Josh Evans. He told her everything she wanted to hear and how she was everything he had dreamed of. He told her he was homeschooled and had no phone so she never had a chance to see him in person or hear his voice but she was happy. It was a great romance. But a month later, she receives a message from him saying that he heard she was horrible to her friends and that he doesn’t want to know her anymore. She found her Myspace page flooded with posts calling her fat, ugly and a slut. She ran to her room and a few minutes later, her mom found her hanging from her closet’s door, Megan died the next day.

Later on, the Meier family found out, that Josh Evans never existed; his online profile and entire identity were created by one of the Meier’s neighbors, one Lori Drew. Mrs Drew’s daughter was friends with Megan and she wanted to create that profile to know what Megan was saying about her daughter when she was not around. It was one case of Catfishing gone very deadly.

In a more extreme scenario, in 2009, Anthony Stancl, 18, created two false identities of two girls on Facebook. He started several online relationships through these false profiles with a number of boys from his high school, simply by interacting with the boys as one of the girls or both of them in some cases. He, posing as a girl, convinced his schoolmates to send nude photos or pictures of themselves. Stancl, through the girls’ profiles, then tried to get almost half of those boys to meet with a male friend and let him perform sexual acts on them.  When the boys refused, “she” told them that the pictures and videos would be released all over the internet.   Seven boys actually submitted to this horrific request, and allowed Stancl to perform sex acts on them, or they performed sex acts on him.  He took numerous pictures of these encounters with his cell phone, and the police eventually found over 300 nude images of male teens on his computer.  He was charged with five counts of child enticement, two counts of second-degree sexual assault of a child, two counts of third-degree sexual assault, possession of child pornography, and repeated sexual assault of the same child and received a 15-year sentence in prison in early 2010.

What is Catfishing?

Anytime someone uses technology in a way that causes repeated harm to another, it can be classified as Cyber-Bullying. So when someone sets up a fake online profile to communicate with someone for the purpose of tricking them into a relationship just to harm them in any way, shape or form, that counts as Cyber Bullying and is extremely harmful and wrong and can have grave consequences.

It also violates Facebook’s terms of use: “You will not provide any false personal information on Facebook, or create an account for anyone other than yourself without permission” and “You will not bully, intimidate, or harass any user.”

The truth remains, that most of us if not all of us, sometimes use or create pseudonyms or alter-egos online to safeguard our identity.  The one defining factor is simple, if it not done to harm others or mislead them, then it is fine to do so. If you don’t know if what you are doing online is right or wrong, ask yourself this question; are you doing this just to protect your identity or for the purpose of harming, harassing, humiliating or misleading someone? That answer should be your guide to what is catfishing.

You may hear some people arguing that it is harmless fun to create a false online identity to trick a friend of a classmate and that is very wrong to meet someone online and only online. We do advise everyone not to commit themselves emotionally to a digital relationship without any means of meeting that person in real life, a very efficient way of protecting yourself against Catfishing is simply to ask the person you met online to engage in some sort of video chat like Skype and the like. You will see the person live and interact with them in sound and video. Don’t blame people who fall into the trap but educate them to protect themselves online, blaming everyone for anything they do online gets the community nowhere but downhill.

If you have met someone online, don’t give too much personal information right away, take your time to video chat with the person and really get to know them and even then, there is not point of giving out your address or full name or family information. And if you agree on meeting in person, don’t get over excited that you forget your own safety, tell you family where you are going and always take a friend or a group of friends to be around. Yes, no one takes a friend to a first date, but no one said anything about your friends having coffee or dinner in the same place while keeping an eye on you from afar, you safety is the most important thing and your friends can protect you if something or someone turns out to be not what they seemed online.

Yes, Romance is great and it very true that “Love is blind” especially if this online relationship is your sole provider of love and affection that you are not getting anywhere else. But at the same time, it will never be very bad to pause and try to proceed with caution. Remember what they say, “if someone seems too good to be true, they probably is.”

How to protect yourself from Catfishing? check out our guide to What Parents can do about Online Bullying and Catfishing!

What is your opinion on what is cyber safety in relation to catfishing? do we know what is cyber safety doing on the dangers of catfishing…tell us how you define what is cyber safety below… How do you see cat fishing now?

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