More and more people are turning to dating apps to find love. Dating website E-Harmony report that five million people have tried to find their ideal companion online and predict that by the year 2031, more than half of all relationships will have started on an app or a website. But what if the person you've been connecting with online wasn't the person they claimed to be?
I'm not on Tinder or Bumble or Plenty of Fish or E-Harmony or any other dating app or website, but I discovered recently that my photos are and someone on Tinder has been posing as me. In other words, my pictures were being used by a Catfish.
If this term is unfamiliar then I should probably clarify that my identity wasn't being assumed by a ray-finned fish. The term "catfish" in this context refers to a 2010 documentary called Catfish, where a man named Nev Shulman meets a woman online named Megan and builds a romantic relationship with her. Surprise Surprise! "Megan" is not really Megan, she actually a married woman named Angela. At the end of the documentary Angela's husband, Vince explains to Nev that cod are shipped along with catfish in the same tanks to keep the cod active, and thus ensure the quality of the fish. He explains that there are people in everyone's lives who keep them alert, active and always thinking and he believes Angela to be such a person.
The documentary became a TV series, which now airs on MTV where Nev and fellow filmmaker Max meet couples that have met online but are yet to meet in person. The show reveals the secrets, surprises and deceptions that occur as individuals discover the true identities of the people they have been connecting with online.
Catfishing affects both the person being deceived and the person who unbeknownst to them have had their identity stolen. While there are plenty of examples of people finding love online, catfishing introduces a very dark element to online dating and while it's by no means a new phenomenon, the rise in popularity of dating apps and websites has seen it come to the forefront and it doesn't seem to be going away any time soon.
Dublin model Holly Carpenter has been the victim of catfishing on more than one occasion. Speaking recently on Prime Time, the former Miss Ireland revealed that one catfish photoshopped Holly's head onto nude pictures and sent them to men on Whatsapp – which pushed her to confront the person behind the fake account. The catfish didn't take kindly to their encounter and while they did admit that they "didn't get much attention from guys and were loving the attention" things took a nasty turn and Holly ultimately had to block the catfish. Holly also revealed that she raised the matter with the Gardaí but felt that her complaint wasn't taken seriously.
While catfishing is still not a crime in Ireland and the UK, one MP from Stockport has taken a stand against it and is calling for a new law to be brought in to make it an illegal offence. Ann Coffey describes victims of catfishing who have approached her as being left traumatised by their ordeals: "Catfishing should be made illegal, the industry should be made to do more to protect its users by introducing more robust ID verification procedures". Some social media sites have taken steps to crack down on fake profiles and dating websites have also put in place stricter measures in ensuring profiles impersonating other people are taken down. However, I like many feel that the only way to truly deter catfishing is to make it an offence to create a false identity online. It is, after all, a form of identity theft.
I know some people will read that and think that I'm getting a little carried away but some of the stories that I've heard since finding out that my pictures were being used by a catfish have led me to have this opinion on the matter.
At first, I laughed it off and even made light of it on my Instagram story. But then I was contacted by several people who were manipulated, deceived and even robbed by individuals posing as other people online. I was also made aware of a tactic called ‘love-bombing' where a manipulative individual tries to control another person with ‘bombs' (declarations of love, gifts and promises for the future) from the moment they start communicating with one another.
I then became a little paranoid about the whole thing as the person posing as me on Tinder wrote on their bio" I love walking my pet dog fluffy" and "I'm looking for a passionate woman and for a dog to come with the girl". Now anyone who knows me well will know that I am a massive dog lover and my Snapchat friends are spammed with photos of cute dogs on an almost daily basis. So I began to wonder if the person posing as me was someone close to me and started playing amateur detective in my head. I have never found out who was behind this but I'm led to believe that the profile disappeared very quickly after I put it on my social media. My story pales in comparison to most but it did cause me some distress and had I wrongly accused someone of being behind it (which I came close to doing) then things could have been a whole lot worse.
While I do acknowledge there are much bigger problems facing our generation, I still believe that measures need to be put in law to prevent catfishing. It's not a victimless crime and can cause harm mentally, physically and financially. It can be emotionally devastating to the victim to find out that the person they've been connecting with is not who they thought they were and the embarrassment can lead to trust issues and damage future relationships that the victim may have. All in all, catfishing can seriously f**k up someone's life so if you're thinking of doing it to someone then don't and if you're currently posing as someone else online then have a little empathy for the person you're deceiving and stop.