Catfishing: Hook, Line and Sinker

The dangers of online relationships.

Posted Feb 10, 2013

Catfishing has received a lot of media attention lately and I'm not talking about traditional fishing.  This one's got a definition all of its own, and I am still in a quandary over the name...  Even the media is capitalizing on this catfishing as MTV airs "Catfish" every Monday at 11 p.m. ET.  This blog is about how people create a fictitious online character and go fishing for a vulnerable, lonely person to humiliate and shame.  They cast their line in hopes for a tug.  They manipulate, and lure (no pun intended) their victim in until they take the bait.  Then they set the hook and reel the victim in.  Only by no means is this a fishing expedition, rather it’s a cold, heartless way to toy with another person’s heart and emotions. 

A prime example of a catfishing victim is the Notre Dame’s linebacker Manti Te'O.  Manti Te'O fell victim to a cruel and heartless hoax all because he loved a nonexistent woman named Lennay Kekua.  Lennay was allegedly a Stanford University student who died in September 2012, of leukemia. Coincidentally, this was the same month that Manti lost his grandmother, so needless to say it was a heavy month for the star football player.  Manti continued to play football even in the time of his grief, saying that he had made a promise to his girlfriend that he would continue to play regardless of what happened.  That promise held true, as he had a strong season, only the relationship lacked anything but truth.  Recently the media leaked that the relationship had been a hoax.  An acquaintance of Manti Te’O, a man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, had orchestrated and fabricated the hoax that lured Manti into a relationship with an imaginary woman.

Unfortunately, the whole ordeal swept the internet and media outlets nationwide.  To top it off, the situation set off a frenzy of viral pictures, lewd jokes with people pretending to kiss vacant spaces, and pictures of empty shower stalls captioned with Manti Te'O’s girlfriend.  What an embarrassing and humiliating experience!  Manti Te’O did one thing wrong; he fell for someone he’d never met.  Believe it or not, many people meet online.  Just look at the rise of online matchmaking and dating services.  Did you know there are even teen dating chat rooms?  This online hooking up and dating has really grown into quite an industry. 

Even though Manti Te’O’s story seems surreal, there is one thing good that can come out it; we can learn from it and use it as a teaching moment for young people.  Teens are constantly chatting and online.  Just look at their social media sites and how many people they communicate with in a given week.  On social sites such as FaceBook it’s not uncommon for teens to accept people they don't even know to be their friend.  Which brings up a good question, could your teen fall victim to catfishing?  If you say no, then you may want to think again…

Check out this out...

Kayla just broke up with Colby.  Her weekends became very desolate and lonely so she spent a good deal of her time online chatting with others.  One night a really cute guy, Derek sent her a message and friend request on FaceBook and she was hooked…

Tereik decided it was time to teach Kayla a lesson for not agreeing to go out with him.  So, he decided to play a prank on her.  First he searched the internet for images of “high school boys." Next, he found a picture of a guy that would appeal to Kayla.  He saved the picture on his computer and then set off to set up a bogus account.  He carefully scripted his interest to compliment Kayla’s.  After he finished he sent Kayla a message and friend request.

"Hi Kayla, I hope that you don't mind me messaging you, but I saw you the other night at the movies and asked around about who you were.  I was visiting a friend of mine in your town and we decided to check out a movie and then I saw you…  I'd like to get to know you.  I hope you'll accept my request..."

Tereik  sat his computer and laughed aloud when Kayla accepted his friend request.  For months Tereik kept up his charade luring Kayla into falling for Derek.  In this scenario you can see how a lonely person looking for something more can easily be hooked...and sunk.

As you can see catfishing can be quite easy.  Parents, please review these online safety tips with your teen to protect him/her from becoming the victim of an online hoax:
  • Don't give out your personal information online. That means, your full name, address, where you go to school, where you work, or who your parents are.  With the internet it’s easy to find someone and then zoom in via satellite to where they live.  Scary thought! 
  • Don’t trust anyone, especially if you don’t know them from face to face encounters.  People lie and all you are seeing are words on a screen.  Even if you’re on Skype or FaceTime, who is to say the person is who they say they are?
  • Date people you know from school, work, church, synagogue, etc.
  • Don’t post questionable or risqué pictures of yourself.  This includes those sleepover, beach or pool vacation pics.
  • Don't let your teen meet people he or she has met online alone.  If you teen already has an online relationship and is reluctant to give it up, make sure you speak with the online friend's parents and arrange a time to meet all together. 
  • Do create a half-way profile, that doesn't reveal too much.  Only half-way describe yourself on your site.  As far as pictures go, post a pet or better yet an Avatar.
  • Do search the internet for people.  Do a little digging on your own to learn what you can about your online friend.  While you’re searching go ahead and have your teen “Google” himself/herself.  Make sure nothing too revealing comes up.  Next click images and see what photos pop up.

Catfishing is an emotional and humiliating experience for those affected.  Protect your teen from falling victim to fictitious relationships by discussing online safety with him or her.  Here’s the gist if you can’t see someone face to face then odds are you aren’t in a healthy relationship that’s worth holding onto.