The internet has become an inseparable part of modern-day life, but our casual and sometimes unquestioning use of social media can leave us open to being duped.
You may already be familiar with the term ‘catfish’. Put simply, a catfish is someone who uses fabricated details and images to cultivate a bogus persona. This can involve taking someone else’s pictures and details and passing them off as your own.
Historically the term catfish hails from the manner in which cod were shipped from North America to Asia. Fishermen found that the inactivity of the cod during transportation reduced their saleable quality but by adding catfish into the same tanks, the cod remained active and therefore maintained their condition. On this basis, it was said that “everyone needs a catfish in their lives to keep them alive and active.”
Spotting The Red Herrings: Why Would Someone Choose To Create A Fake Profile Or Identity?
Generally, a catfish will embark on this sort of activity to create a more likable or engaging version of themselves. This can be down to deep-seated insecurities, low self-esteem or issues with physical appearance.
Other reasonings can include loneliness, struggles with social interaction, anxieties about revealing an authentic personality, or a desire to explore innate sexual preferences.
The deeper and darker side of catfishing can be a by-product of attempts at intentional escapism, efforts to extort money, trolling, harassment, fraud and revenge. But regardless of the motive, catfishing or deceiving someone through the internet is still a form of abuse and can be extremely damaging to the victim.
A Drop In The Ocean: The Effects Of Catfishing On The Victims
There are concerns that a vast amount of catfishing remains unreported due to the fact that victims can understandably feel embarrassed or humiliated for what has happened. Other after-effects can include self-doubt, life-long trust issues and reduced levels of self-esteem as well as the fall-out of becoming emotionally involved with a person who does not truly exist.
Other consequences can result in the emotional devastation caused by the loss of time, energy and emotion on a fictitious situation, the effects of possibly having adapted a lifestyle or altered major life decisions as a result of an ongoing lie and therefore the questioning of self and the ability to make future life decisions.
Not Always Plain Sailing: What Are The Legal Implications?
Sadly, despite the increasing knowledge surrounding the emotional fraud involved with internet-based deception, there is no clear avenue of recourse for those who have been emotionally or financially deceived.
Currently intentionally catfishing someone is seen as deceitful but not illegal, regardless of the mental repercussions it can cause the victim.
Depending on the type of deception, it is thought that there are grounds under the Fraud Act, Communications Act and/or Sex Offences Act – however, no firm legislation has been put in place in the UK in respect of this.
Social catfishing is premeditated deception in lieu of financial fraud, and on this basis, it remains a grey area in terms of legality. However, no form of emotional abuse should be tolerated and without concrete lawful deterrents being put in place how can we ever ensure that the freedom to deceive can be stopped?
We need to be pushing for this form of internet deception to be viewed in the same way as domestic abuse. When we consider that domestic abuse is not always physical – it does often the vicious unravelling and destruction of a person’s emotional state. So, can we honestly say that catfishing is any different?
Make Sure The Coast Is Clear: What Support Is There For Victims?
Although catfishing is still not yet officially a criminal offence in the UK, it can never be seen as a victimless act.
Our current internet culture has left us all open to being vulnerable but also open to having our own images and identity taken for alternative uses.
Whilst the internet is an extremely positive and powerful tool, it can never replace the importance of your gut instinct or your intuition and being safe is always the better option than being sorry.
If you are concerned that you or someone you know is being emotionally abused or manipulated then reach out and seek advice.