I can still recall watching the movie Catfish with wide-eyed curiosity. It was 2010, and while the internet was well into its rebellious teenage years, social media was still in its toddling around the living room phase. (It’s grown up a lot since then.)
I remember being completely shocked at the concept of “online identity theft.” The way Nev Schulman and his cohorts laid out the story for the documentary seemed to foreshadow something completely sinister at play. But while the reality of the situation veered more so into the realm of the sad/pathetic, it still introduced a totally disturbing social concept: Bored, lonely people are willing to bold-faced lie and play with someone else’s emotions, under the veil of anonymity that the internet provides.
It’s now been 9 years since we got introduced to the pop culture phenomenon of the “Catfish” and, a lot has changed since then.
The stigma of meeting people online has long vanished. (Sadly, I’m old enough to remember when turning to the “world wide web” to get dates actually induced eye rolls and pity instead of an “oh good for you!”).
Four years ago, when I moved to Las Vegas, I decided to give online dating a go. Being an “out and about” girl in Southern California, I’d always been (hashtag) blessed to meet suitors in passing who sparked my interest, so I didn’t really feel a need to venture into the virtual dating world.
But that was in my 20’s. Being an early 30’s chick, and moving to a transient city where Netflix binges last longer than most relationships, I knew I’d have to explore a different approach than I had in the past.
So…cue the “buffet of men.” (Er, I mean dating apps). And while I still probably have hundreds of posts left in me about the online dating warzone (a.k.a Tinder), this post is specific to Catfishing.
I quickly realized that I was increasing my odds of being Catfished by posting “sexy pictures” on my profile. In my mind, my beach pics were simply full disclosure to my potential suitors, since I was also seeking a “fitness friendly” mate to court me. But now that I’m a couple years older (and more bitter, oops I mean wiser!) I can acknowledge the naiveté in my thought process.
Apparently, my Catfish felt my bikini pic had the wow factor, or more so “the bait” to do some fishy business online. (Okay, I promise I’ll stop with the fish puns.)
Here is my fake profile on Bumble: (A single male friend stumbled on it and alerted me).
Seeing a whole other identify associated with my pics brought in a mixture of emotions that I wasn’t expecting: intrigue, creep factor, flattery, and concern.
I was intrigued by the person behind the “Vanessa profile.” There were so many questions that I wanted to ask: “Are you even a female? How old are you? Where did you live? And most importantly “What is your motivation to do this?”
Basically, I had this strong desire to actually stalk my own Catfish. But I quickly realized it’s a losing battle, since there’s really no recourse or anyway to identify them. Pretty much ANYONE has the ability to steal pics and make a fake profile. The only reason Nev (in the original film) got to meet his Catfish is because the situation actually progressed to the point where he was able to research and collect her information.
But with cash transfer apps like Venmo and Xoom, I think the Catfish game has definitely switched gears: From lonely, desperate housewives looking for an escape, to shady “virtual pick pockets” looking to con people out of their precious cash.
I can just imagine “Vanessa” messaging guys on Tinder: “OMG, like I was soooooo looking forward to meeting you, but my car like just broke down and I need $300 to fix it. Do you think you can help me out? I’ll totally come see if you just Venmo me right now.”
While most gentleman would be savvy enough to see right through Vanessa’s fishy BS, the sugardaddy/sugarbaby relationship has existed since the dawn of time, and there are still plenty of men out there with “pockets full grown” willing to throw a couple hundred at some babe they’ve never meet. There’s always the hope of a “return” on the investment.
But then, Vanessa doesn’t show up because she’s…well…ME. She’s just a little shorter (they were off by three inches) slightly less educated (I have a masters and she has a H.S. Diploma) and she’s also a few years younger (that part I didn’t mind).
So there could potentially be a small army of lonely men who have forked over their hard earned cash to Vanessa, only to get flaked out on. My face, my body and my likeness are now associated with a force field of anger over “the bitch that stood them up.” Lovely.
Or…There might be another “Nev” out there who believes he’s in a genuine online relationship with Vanessa. (I guess I shouldn’t visit Florida anytime soon).
While that might be a stretch of the imagination (and a great idea for a horror movie) the anonymity that comes with fake profiles is still scary as hell. Someone, anyone, could be using YOUR face to meet their own needs, hurt other people, sell a weird ass product, etc. It’s a free-for-all.
This experience has forced me to reevaluate just how important my online privacy is, and how posting certain types of pics can put you at risk. My friend (who found the fake profile) also let me know he reported it to Bumble. I want to express my concern to Bumble and I’m interested to see how they handle the issue of fake profiles. I have an inkling it’ll be a “whatever, happens all the time” approach, but I’m hoping they’ll prove me wrong.
And I can only imagine the excuses Vanessa gives when guys ask to her FaceTime, Skype, Facebook live, ANYTHING to validate that she’s really “the girl” in the pic.
“I dropped my phone in the toilet, my dog ate my FaceTime, I just checked into a psychiatric facility”…the list goes on and on.
Please don’t be a Catfish and also…please don’t take the bait.
The internet can be a murky place. Stay safe out there folks.