Not everyone on the internet is who they claim to be. That’s no revelation to most parents, whose primary fear is that an adult predator will put on a fake persona to target their child. But it turns out, teens can be the tricksters, too. What motivates one to try out a faux online identity? Here’s a few variations to look out for.
1) The instigator: ‘Catfishing' got its name from the 2010 documentary-turned MTV show Catfish, where one man shrugged off his wife’s deceptive behavior as keeping things lively — just as catfish do when captive in a net full of fish. There are those who seem to deceive just because they can, to get a rise or reaction from their victim.
2) The freedom-fighter: Teens often create an alter ego in order to find a space where they can freely express themselves, without the lurking eyes of mom, dad, or even cool cousin Sue.
3) The attention-seeker: One popular twitter account convinced followers she was suffering a terminal illness, generating an outpouring of online sympathy, in order to get the attention of (and followed by) her celebrity crush.
4) The grudge-holder: Some hide behind a fake identity to mete out cruel behavior, either out of jealousy, spite or feeling wronged. In the tragic case of Megan Meier, her former friend/neighbor created a fake love interest that cruelly turned on her, ultimately driving the 13-year-old to take her own life.
5) The gender-bender: In some cases, teens have been known to take on the persona of the opposite sex, possibly as a kind of safe place for the exploration of gender identity.
6) The hopelessly-insecure: A fake profile can simply be a passport to creating a more confident, popular version of oneself than exists in the real world.
7) The love-sick: This catfisher thinks if he or she can only make the object of their affection fall in love with the “real” person inside, they’ll look beyond the superficial. Alternatively, a fake suitor can be used to make one’s real-life crush jealous, as allegedly was the motivation behind the debunked UVA/Rolling Stone article about a woman claiming a campus rape.
Catching a Catfisher:
As always, remind your teen to be wary when connecting with strangers they do not know in real life, and to look out for these signs they are being played: The person can never meet up, and always has sympathetic reasons for not doing so; they won’t give you a physical address where they live; their posts come at a time incongruous with their physical time zone; they claim not to have access to Skype or FaceTime; their social media seems to have few followers, and photos use few tags.
Image courtesy of Flickr.