If you have spent any amount of time on the internet, you have likely run across someone who is presenting a completely false front…claiming to be something or someone they are not. You may not even realize you’ve run across someone like this. I’m not trying to make you paranoid, but the fact is, that the internet allows for almost 100% anonymity…except to the NSA, of course. Since the film of the same name, people have begun referring to these people as Catfish.
People post fake profiles all the time, all around the web. This is not news, and it’s hardly worthy of a full article; but I started thinking about it and theorizing about ‘why’ people do this. What drives them to feel they can’t be themselves? How do they come up with their new persona? So, I went looking for answers, and rather than be angry and confused or hurt by these types of people, I’m starting to feel compassion and sympathy for them. Let me explain…
6 Reasons a Person Might Become a Catfish
1. The Scammer
The most obvious reason people create a fake persona, is of course to scam victims into turning over their money. These people are slugs and are not worthy of wasting any more time talking about them.
2. The Avenger
The Avenger creates a fake persona in order to exact retribution for real or perceived wrongs they have faced. For instance, they will create an account in the name of the person who they feel wronged them, and post unflattering comments about themselves, or post nasty or mean messages to friends of their target to try and disrupt that person’s life. I don’t have much sympathy for this type as it is pretty clear that they are just mean, vindictive, cruel people, and their intent is malicious.
Word to the wise….California and New York have enacted laws that make creating and using fake accounts a misdemeanor with heavy fines and jail time possible. Texas classes it as a third-degree felony, and Arizona is considering legislation along a similar vein. Several other states are taking up the challenge of enacting laws to protect people from these types of hoaxes.
3. The Hater/Bully
Similar to The Avenger, The Hater/Bully creates fake accounts in order to torment someone else. Their victim has not done anything wrong, necessarily, but the hater simply doesn’t like them for the way they look, the way they talk, the things they post online, or any other mundane, stupid reason. Bear in mind, that this trend isn’t exclusive to teenagers. In my editorial on Cyber Bullies, I expand on this, and try to encourage victims to fight back. I don’t mean they should retaliate and become an Avenger, but simply that they should seek the help they need from supportive people and groups who can help.
4. The Troll and The Flamer
Flamer and troll are fairly interchangeable. Flamer isn’t quite as popular a term anymore, but both terms refer to anyone who comes into a message board and posts generally vulgar or provocative statements, and even outright lies just to fan the “flames”. This is done solely for his own amusement as he has no stake in the message or debate. His statements generally turn the entire topic upside down as people respond to his ridiculous tirade. Their goal is simply to disrupt the flow.
These people will never be found under their real names. They are timid little cowards in “real life”, and so find the internet an easy and safe (for them) place to vent their frustration at society. My guess is that they are probably not very intelligent, and feel left out of conversations above their head, so they resort to petty, pathetic behavior for a brief moment of satisfaction.
5. The Cheater
Some folks find the internet a “safe” way to cheat. They may have hit a rough patch in their relationship, or are addicted to that rush of “love in the beginning”, but aren’t free to pursue it. These people have no intention of leaving their significant other, and they aren’t in a position to connect with people in the physical world, or simply don’t want the hassle and the danger of getting involved in a real life affair. Sometimes, they may not be actually looking for a love connection, but stumble on one and before they know it, they are in way too deep.
The Cheater may or may not let the other person know they are married. If they do let them know, they likely spin a tale of marital hell that they are unable to escape as an excuse to keep up the online relationship, stringing the other person along endlessly with the hope that one day it will be different; when the time is right.
These people will have a full blown online relationship with someone, letting the other person fall in love, then when it gets too much to handle, or gets to the point that it’s “put up or shut up”, they walk away or pick a big fight or find some kind of excuse to end things. Anything other than the fact that they are married and plan on staying that way.
6. The Outsider
Now we get to the ones I feel for. These are the ones who create a persona in order to fit into an online group because for whatever reason, they have not felt like they fit into regular society. For them, the internet is a fresh start. They can be who they want to be or who they perceive others want them to be in order to be accepted. There are a million reasons why someone may feel like an outsider in “real life”, and maybe we should start examining our relationships more closely to discover if there is anyone we know that might feel left out, unwanted, unappreciated or lonely.
Which one of us has never felt any need to change something about ourselves? How many of us have not thought at one point or another…”if only I was…” or “if only I could…”? I know there have been times in my life where I have just wished to be able to hit a Reset button and start over; do things differently…be different. The internet provides the perfect opportunity to change who you are with no effort at all. Losing weight is hard. Posting a picture of a thin beauty and claiming it is you, is easy. Getting an MBA is hard. Telling an online group that you earned one is easy. Reversing time is impossible. Telling someone online that you are 10 years younger than you are is easy. But these aren’t the only reasons people embellish themselves.
There are internal feelings of inadequacy that fuel the need to portray oneself as someone else online. It is difficult for a shy, reclusive, socially awkward person to fit in. They don’t possess the skills or the personality to engage others in witty conversation. It is much easier to sit at a keyboard and invent a character and to be given a chance to think about how that character would respond and engage with others. It gives them the comfort of distance, time, anonymity and the comfort of their own space to explore new relationships and live vicariously through their persona. It is easier than living the life they are in and are discontented with.
Let’s face it, not everyone is a George Clooney or a Jennifer Aniston. Society often measures the worth of an individual on how they look. In order to have “average looks”, there has to be an equal number of people who are above average and people who are below average. Unless they possess an incredibly charming, versatile and outgoing personality, those with what are considered to be below average features are more likely to withdraw from society. They have the same needs and desires we all have to be accepted, to fit in, and even to be loved. These things are difficult, if not impossible, to attain in the real world because they are so lost in their own low self esteem (often because of torment from others). Getting online and pretending to be vivacious and sexy and flirty gives them the opportunity to experience life the way they imagine others do.
Who Pays The Price
A fake persona cannot be sustained forever. It can certainly go on for quite a while, but eventually people are exposed. When it does, it hurts everyone. Real relationships are formed, and the hurt of the deception is felt just as deeply in online relationships as it does in our real world ones. The person who was only looking for some acceptance now finds themselves shunned once again. Those that were deceived feel humiliated and used. It most likely was not the intention, but it was the result.
Without naming names, because we aren’t here to ‘out’ anyone, let me know your experiences (if any) with any of the above situations. Are there other reasons that people might fake a persona? I’m not talking about changing a name for the sake of hiding your online activities from your boss or a stalker or something…but actually changing the very essence of who someone is in order to lead a vicarious life. Have YOU ever faked it?
In an upcoming article, I’ll discuss ways we can handle various online personalities, including the fake one.