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Catfishing is a type of deceptive activity where a person creates a sock puppet social networking presence, or fake identity on a social network account, for attention seeking, bullying or as a romance scam.[1]

A "catfish" is someone pretending to be someone they are not on the internet.[2] A catfish usually targets a victim or has someone they are pretending for.[3] Usually people intend catfishing as a romance scam on dating websites or seeking online relationships. People use fake profile pictures, names, and often genders. Catfishers create fake profiles to trick people into thinking they are someone else. Usually, the fabricated life displayed is the one they wish was their own, making it easy to act as if it is really them.

There are now catfishing shows that are produced to solve the mysteries of individuals online relationships. Victims tend to get suspicious when their online partner refuses to meet in person or via web cam. Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o claimed that he met his girlfriend online. "This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," Te'o said. "We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating." Ray Allen was also targeted.[4]


Although some sources state that the modern term originated from the 2010 American documentary Catfish, the term has actually been around in the English language for decades.[1]

The term "catfishing" became popular after the film Catfish, directed by Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman, came out in 2010. The movie is based on the story of a man named Yaniv Schulman who fell in love with a girl online who was actually using a fake identity.[5] Catfishing describes a person who is using a fake identity online to interact with other people on the internet. It is usually used on different social media sites.

Catfishing has become more widely known throughout the subsequent decade. It started from the documentary, and it eventually became a popular television series. This series follows the main star of the movie,Yaniv (Nev) Schulman. He helps other people investigate their possible catfish situation. This gives a lot of insight into the real lives that have been affected by catfishing. It also explores the motives behind the people who use fake identities to build relationships with online users.[6]

According to Vince Pierce, the husband of Angela Pierce—the subject of the Catfish documentary—the term catfish comes from fishermen "putting sea catfish in with the cod to nip at their tails and keep them active" during overseas transport in order to produce more lively and fresh meat.[7] This etymology has been described as having "all the hallmarks of apocryphal folklore" by Ben Zimmer writing for The Boston Globe, pointing out that catfish were used "as a kind of Christian parable (referring to the Atlantic rather than [as in Pierce's explanation] the Pacific fishing trade) in Henry W. Nevinson's 1913 Essays in Rebellion and again in Charles Marriott's novel The Catfish published later the same year."[8]

The term rose in popularity during an incident involving University of Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o in 2013.[1][8]

According to a Washington Post article[9] the Rolling Stone University of Virginia rape hoax story may have been an example of catfishing.[10] NBA star Chris Andersen also fell victim to catfishing.[11]


Some online users have used catfishing to explore their gender and/or sexual identities.[12] For example, on the MTV show Catfish, based on the documentary, a girl named Sonny connects with a male model named Jamison who is, in reality, Chelsea, a woman using her alternative identity to interact with other women in an online space.[12] In a personal essay for The New York Times' Modern Love column and a subsequent podcast episode[13] narrated by actor Cory Michael Smith, writer Kalle Oskari Mattila recounted how pretending to be a woman online helped him to find himself as a young boy growing up in a strictly gendered society.[14]

The motives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, the man who catfished Manti Te'o, were never explained; some people speculate that Manti was in on the hoax for publicity.[15]

Financial gain can be another motive of catfishing. In 2015, three girls created a fake social media profile and managed to steal $3,300 from the terrorist group Islamic State. They had been approached by a recruitment officer & asked for money to go to Syria. After being given the money, they immediately deleted their account and pocketed the cash for their own personal travel.[16]

Catfishing can also be a tactic to stop criminals. In 2004, Dateline NBC produced the segment, To Catch a Predator, which documented undercover cops posing as minors online to catch pedophiles.

Catfishing is used for multiple reasons. The person with the fake identity can catfish another user on the internet to believe they are the person they portray themselves as. This often is used for relationships, such as the scenario in the movie Catfish. The person catfishing usually uses another real person's photos and life facts to make them appear as a real person. Often, the real person who is being used for the fake identity does not even know that they are having their pictures and name used. They are not aware that their identity was used to create these fake relationships online. The person uses catfishing in order to appear as a better version of themselves by using a fake identity. Their primary reason to appear as a fake person is to befriend the other person for a relationship or other sexual reasons.[17] It can also be used as a way to cyberbully someone online. By using a fake identity, it is easy for the person to get away with bullying on the internet. Since they are using another person's identity or a made up identity, the person will not get in trouble and will not have any consequences. The cyberbullying cannot be traced back to them, which is a big reason why they use a fake identity in the first place. This type of cyberbullying has increased the amount of suicides in teens over the past few years.[18]

Dangers of catfishing[edit]

There are many dangers of catfishing. It can be used to attract a person from the internet and allow them to meet them in person. The person catfishing can lure people to a place to kidnap, or hurt in any other way. It is a new way for sexual predators to interact with their victims and possibly harm. These sexual predators use their fake identity to talk to teens, allowing them to get close to them so that the teen will trust them. It is then easy for the predator to get information from the teen so that they can use that information to harm the victim.[19]

Signs of catfishing[edit]

There are several ways people can spot a catfisher. If a random person starts following or messaging a user, and the person's profile picture looks fake or too good to be true, then the person may be catfishing. These signs are very helpful when wanting to catch a catfish profile.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ a b c Harris, Aisha (January 18, 2013). "Catfish meaning and definition: term for online hoaxes has a surprisingly long history". Slate. Retrieved 2015-09-23. 
  2. ^ "What is 'Catfishing'?" FindLaw
  3. ^ "Who's Behind the Screen?" by Ellie Flynn, The Sun, 7 February 2018
  4. ^ "Ray Allen: Communicated with man who pretended to be many women", ESPN news services, Nov 21, 2017
  5. ^ McCarthy, Ellen. "What is catfishing? A brief (and sordid) history". The Washington Post. Retrieved 29 March 2018. 
  6. ^ Martin, Denise. "Here's How MTV's Catfish Actually Works". Vulture. Retrieved 6 April 2018. 
  7. ^ "Why is MTV's 'Catfish' TV show called Catfish?". November 26, 2012. Retrieved 2015-09-23. 
  8. ^ a b Zimmer, Ben (January 27, 2013). "Catfish: How Manti Te'o's imaginary romance got its name". The Boston Globe. Retrieved 2015-09-23. 
  9. ^ Shapiro, T. Rees (December 10, 2014). "U-Va. students challenge Rolling Stone account of alleged sexual assault". The Washington Post. Retrieved 2015-09-23. 
  10. ^ Shapiro, Jeffrey Scott (December 15, 2014). "U.Va. rape accuser's friends begin to doubt story". The Washington Times. Retrieved 2015-09-23. 
  11. ^ "20/20: 04/14/17: Hooking a Catfish Watch Full Episode | 04/14/2017". ABC. Retrieved 2017-10-15. 
  12. ^ a b Slade, Alison F.; Narro, Amber J. & Buchanan, Burton P. (2014). Reality Television: Oddities of Culture. Lexington Books. pp. 237–244. ISBN 978-0-7391-8564-3. 
  13. ^ "Listen: Cory Michael Smith Reads 'Catfishing Strangers to Find Myself'". Retrieved 2018-08-05. 
  14. ^ Mattila, Kalle Oskari (25 November 2016). "Catfishing Strangers to Find Myself". nytimes. 
  15. ^ NG, Christina (January 31, 2013). "Manti Te'o Hoaxer Says He 'Killed' Fake Girlfriend After Fight With Te'o". abcnews. 
  16. ^ "Chechen girls swindle ISIS fighters for travel money". RT News. 29 July 2015. 
  17. ^ Lohmann, Raychelle. "The Two-Sided Face of Teen Catfishing". Psychology Today. Retrieved 6 April 2018. 
  18. ^ Patchin, Justin W. "Catfishing as a Form of Cyberbullying". Cyberbullying Research Center. Retrieved 29 March 2018. 
  19. ^ Lohmann, Raychelle. "The Two-Sided Face of Teen Catfishing". Psychology Today. Retrieved 29 March 2018. 
  20. ^ McHugh, Molly. "It's catfishing season! How to tell lovers from liars online, and more". Digital Trends. Retrieved 6 April 2018.