Catfishing and How It Relates to Cyberbullying

Understanding the dynamics of catfishing


The Internet and social media have bridged gaps between people all over the world allowing them to connect and to communicate in new and easier ways. But it also has opened the doors to fraud, deception and cyberbullying.

As a result, people are often tricked, bullied and taken advantage of by people who are not who they say they are. For instance, pedophiles and other predators will pretend to be young teens in order to develop a relationship with a teen. They encourage their targets to share intimate information that later is used to lure them into a meeting. These meetings are extremely dangerous because they could result in assault or abduction.

Meanwhile, teens also engage in impersonation online in order to humiliate and embarrass their targets. This type of impersonation is a form of cyberbullying. Sometimes teens pretend to be the victim and post mean or sexually suggestive things in the target’s name to damage their online reputation. Other times, they pretend to be a fictitious person online in order to develop a fake relationship with the target. Later, they may use the information they gathered to embarrass and bully the target further. Developing fake relationships online is often called “catfishing.”

What Is Catfishing?

Catfishing is creating a fake identity online and using it to lure people in. In other words, people pretend to be someone they are not online in order to hook people into a romantic relationship. Meanwhile, getting catfished means that a person has been tricked into a relationship by someone who is not who they say they are.

The term catfishing comes from the 2010 documentary called "Catfishing". In the documentary, 24-year-old Nev Schulman carried out an online relationship with 19-year-old Megan Faccio from Michigan. But, Megan Faccio did not even exist. Angel Wesselman, a bored housewife who spent most of her time taking care of her handicapped stepsons, created Megan and duped Schulman.

Another example of catfishing involved a star linebacker from Notre Dame, Manti Te’o. He also was tricked into believing his online girlfriend was a real person. Then in an effort to untangle themselves from the mess, the impersonators even went so far as to indicate that his girlfriend had lost her battle with leukemia.

But catfishing is not limited to well-known people like Schulman or Te’o. It happens every day to adults and teens alike. In fact, research indicates that 83 million Facebook accounts are fake.

Catfishing and Cyberbullying

Impersonating someone else online is a form of cyberbullying. It is an intentional act that inflicts emotional harm on another person. Young teens are especially susceptible to catfishing because of they often “friend” people they do not know.

They also are at risk because they tend to share too much personal information, especially their emotions. Cyberbullies often exploit the emotions of others online especially if they discover something makes the person sad, depressed, afraid or lonely.

Teens also are susceptible to catfishing if they are vocal about wanting a boyfriend or girlfriend or by talking about dating.

Possible Warning Signs 

To avoid being duped by a stranger online, look for these signs of a catfish.

  • Avoids personal communication. For instance, catfish often refuse to give out telephone numbers or use webcams. They also avoid Skype and FaceTime. 
  • Seems to look the same year after year. If you look at a catfish’s profile pictures over the years, they are often using the same picture for a number of years. Additionally, the catfish will look the same age year after year. All the pictures look the same.
  • Avoids contact by using traumatic life events as an excuse. These might include accidents, family emergencies, deaths and illnesses such as cancer. They also may pretend to be traveling or visiting relatives and not able to meet.
  • Has an unusually large number of opposite sex “friends” online. For instance, female catfish will have a large ratio of male friends online. Likewise, male catfish will have a lot of female friends.
  • Appears vague about their past. People in relationships with them feel like they never quite have all the information. They also don't provide a lot of details about their past, but they also are very vague about their future plans, their family members, and their current job.