Thursday, January 17, 2013

To Catch a Catfish

If you read my blog, you probably know I am not a fan of online dating. To sum up my opinion, I just feel that people were out there finding the lids to their pots long before the internet was a thing. No need to blindly turn to the land of cat-loving sexual deviants to find your match. The internet is filled with weirdos and liars. Don't believe me? Read answers to questions on yahoo or reviews of anything on yelp.
So it doesn't surprise me at all when people find out that someone they met on the internet isn't who they said they were. I'm more surprised that they are genuinely surprised by this deception. Seriously. Didn't anyone else obsessively watch those classic "To Catch a Predator" specials on Dateline with Chris Hansen busting some horny 40-year-old bringing beer and condoms to a suburban house claiming they were meeting up with a girl who said she was 23? Liars.
But apparently, all this evidence against online dating is not enough to stand up to those few fleeting fairytales you hear about a friend of a friend who met the love of their life on Match.com or to everyone's fear of being alone. And because of that we have catfishing.
 What is "catfishing" you ask? Well according to MTV, who has a whole reality show about it, it is:
Cat·fish [kat-fish] verb:  To pretend to be someone you're not online by posting false information, such as someone else's pictures, on social media sites, usually with the intention of getting someone to fall in love with you. 
The term Catfish itself, stems from a 2010 documentary film about this phenomena. In the film, someone explains that when live cod were shipped to Asia from North America, the fish's inactivity in their tanks resulted in mushy flesh, but fishermen found that putting catfish in the tanks with the cod kept them active. He explains that people who do things like this on the internet are "catfish", who keep other people active in life.
I first heard the term catfish at Thanksgiving at a friend's house. His boyfriend was telling a story about a flirtation from back in the day over AOL messenger with someone who claimed to be a professional athlete, but turned out to be a popcorn seller at the sports arena. He then was talking about the film and the MTV reality show that had started following hilarious and often tragic stories of people who are involved in a committed relationship online who they have never even met and of course it is all predicated on a lie. Like they say in that hilarious insurance commercial says-they can't put anything on the internet that's not true.

So back to catfishing........if you had not heard that term yet, most likely you have today as news is hitting that popular college football star Manti Te'o who is a linebacker for Notre Dame and a runner-up for the Heisman Trophy. Now, keep in mind, sports are the one reality tv I won't watch, so I'm just hearing of Te'o today. But apparently, the young athlete got a lot of attention for his great playing and sympathy for the sob story in September that he had lost his grandmother and his girlfriend within six hours of each other. Tragic. But not true. The grandmother part is. But this girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, who was a Stanford graduate who was in a car accident and then subsequently diagnosed with leukemia, is apparently as real as Lindsay Lohan's lips aka fake. There is no documentation to be found on Kekua's life, death, funeral, attendance at Stanford, and she didn't exist on the internet. All the pictures of her are of some other girl. Classic catfish.
So now it's all about whether Te'o knew about this hoax or not. He came forward with a genuine-enough sounding statement saying,
"I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online.  We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating . . . I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been.”

It has been alleged that a friend of his, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, may be at the heart of this relationship scandal, but how could this complicated ruse go on for so long?And how will this affect the career of a promising athlete? I already am hearing great jokes like, "now instead of Tebowing, you can Te'o by putting your arm around your fake girlfriend."
I think that it will be interesting to see what becomes of this and how, if at all, this catfishing will cause us to re-evaluate relationships on the internet. Not to say I told you so, but hopefully more people will come to realize that the internet is an excellent place for people to live a life of illusion. But maybe the benefit of this is that Chris Hansen and his hilarioius smug interviews will be back to protect and educate us all with an awesome new Dateline series of "To Catch a Catfish."

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