The Art of the Catfish

When hearing the word catfish, most people think of a friendly whiskered fish swimming calmly through a pond. The word, however, has a second more sinister meaning.

  Merriam Webster defines catfishing as a person setting up a false personal profile on a social networking site for fraudulent or deceptive purposes. This is often done to exploit individuals for monetary or sexual gain.

  It is not illegal to pretend to be someone else on the internet, but it can result in being banned from using a website for violating the terms of service of that site. The illegality of catfishing depends on the end goal of the catfisher. Stealing money or someone’s personal information are a couple of ways in which catfishers have been known to break laws.

  In a high school, catfishing can sometimes take on a bit of a different definition. Students use the social media tools to mislead or “prank” their friends. These attempts never last longer than a couple of weeks. Attempts like this usually stay in the realm of legal catfishing. This leaves the question: how is friendly catfishing done and how does it differ from other types of catfishing?

  A Broughton student, who asked to remain anonymous for fear that he had possibly violated the law, helped shed some light on the high school catfish.

  The first step taken is to choose a target. Always choose someone who you are close to and can take a joke well. Often, when catfishing is done outside of the high school environment, the target is a stranger.

  The second step is creating a fake profile on social media. Instagram is the weapon of choice for unnamed student.

  “A lot of my friends use it so it is the easiest to mess with them,”  the source said.

  In real world catfishing, the most popular websites used are dating sites. This is a more straightforward approach to creating a romantic relationship with a target person.

  After this step the information got a bit hazy but the idea seemed pretty straight forward. The target friend would be followed by the fake account. The person running the operation would then contact the target over direct message in the attempt to be flirtatious. At this point the operation can become a group effort if other friends are around.

  This goes on until the target realizes what is going on or the catfisher decides to spill the beans. The catfish is over usually less than a week after it began. In the real world, catfishing can take place over a much longer period of time and often plays out over the course of months or years. This has a significantly more devastating and life altering effect on victims.

  Although the source hadn’t done anything illegal, could his actions be considered bullying? This would probably be a question best answered on a case by case basis. Our source made it fairly clear that their attempt was not bullying.

  “It is fun as long as you don’t hurt the other person’s feelings,” the source said.

  This sentiment was not shared by some other students.

  “The intent could only be to embarrass them.” said  sophomore Vivian Larkin.

  The cost to bystanders who fall for catfishing fraud can be costly. AARP magazine wrote about an unnamed woman who, in 2013, was catfished by a Nigerian man claiming to be named Dwayne. Over the course of their fake relationship, Dwayne convinced the woman to send him more than $300,000.   None of the money was recovered.

   The magazine warns that old women are not the only targets of Catfishing. Men and women of any age can be targeted by scammers.