I recently watched a show on MTV called Catfish, which sparked a conversation in the office about how easy it is for people to create fake online identities and pretend to be someone they are not. In the Camp community, we hear about these real life problems every day. Whether it’s campers going through it or other Camp professionals witnessing similar events, what starts out as a game to some can quickly turn into a source of mental and emotional anguish for others.
The idea behind Catfish (movie first, tv series later) was to help teens and young adults discover the truth about the real person behind a fake profile. The show would document every step of the way, showing how easy it was to be scammed, and the process used to determine whether or not that person was really who they said they were. At first this idea seemed a little far-fetched, but after watching a few episodes and doing a little Googling, I realized just how common this is and how easy it is to become somebody else with just a few clicks of a mouse.
Now, this may sound like a harmless concept to some. “Catfishing” appeals to those people who want to create another version of themselves, or an entirely different person altogether. It can create a rush, a temporary escape from reality. A place where someone can be whoever they want to be.
However, this type of behavior also has often devastating consequences and negative effects on others. What may be an “escape” or a “game” to one person can quickly filter into the real lives of teens and young adults. It is easy to be drawn into this “game” by someone who doesn’t really exist, and ultimately end up being mentally and emotionally destroyed in the process. Sometimes, this can even end up prompting the victim to then become the aggressor.
So how do they do it? It usually starts with finding public social media profiles of the same person that has multiple social media platforms (Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, etc). If that profile is public, anyone has instant access to all of information and pictures posted on it. They can easily copy all of that information, copy and use pictures, and create a stolen second identity through multiple accounts. It literally takes minutes.
After that, the “Catfish” can choose whatever location they desire and start connecting with people. From there it’s easy to use attributes such as “looks”, “sense of humor”, etc, (stolen from another person) to insert themselves into the lives of others. They look to create emotional bonds with people by looking for life similarities, hardships, something they can connect with. Typically, teens and young adults are targeted because they are at more emotionally and mentally vulnerable stages of their lives.
How can you make sure that you know who you or your child are talking to? One major step is to review the privacy policies and procedures of your social media accounts. Make sure that your profiles, pictures and information are protected, and that your privacy settings are set to what YOU want them to be. Be wary of anyone that sends you friend requests that you do not know. Most importantly, Talk to your teen or young adult about how easy it is to be pulled in.