Catfishing—the act of creating a fake internet person, in order to trick someone into a relationship for personal gain, or for pure enjoyment—is an online phenomenon that’s quickly becoming all too common for adults and teenagers alike.
In recent years the topic has gained lots of mainstream attention, from the show on MTV that shares the same name to the story of football player Manti Te’o and his online lover. The current Los Angeles Charger was tricked into a long-term relationship. In the end, the man behind the guise of Lennay Kekua, Te’o’s fake girlfriend, “killed her off” when Te’o began to drift away from “her” and began to explore real relationships.
Some stories, however, can hit closer to home, even here at Carmel High School. Impossible, right? Not for two junior boys whose summer became quite interesting when they made use of a certain dating app.
“So me and a bunch of friends were hanging out one night, and one of them brought up this app,” one of the boys says. “It was basically Tinder for teens.”
The app was called Spot A Friend, a dating app for teens created in the same vain as Tinder or Grindr. The boys and a few of their friends signed up for the app hoping to make friends and maybe even find someone to love.
“Yeah, we were just talking to girls on the site, just talking,” says the other boy involved in the incident says. “Then this girl came out of nowhere.”
From harmless chatting, the situation quickly escalated. According to the boys, she called herself Hannah. She contacted the two and was very flirty, asking the boys for full body nude photos. It wasn’t until days later that the boys found out that Hannah wasn’t actually Hannah, or even a female.
“I think it was a week later when we prank-called the number, and then we realized that ‘Hey, this is a guy,’” one of the boys adds.
The boys talked to their catfish for a while, and when they asked why he did it, he said he just wanted to connect with people on the internet.
Not every story like this ends with no one hurt and no legal ramifications, however. In some cases the offenses of the catfish are much more severe and consequences hit even harder.
Catfishing doesn’t just happen to celebrities or on the TV. It can happen to anyone. According to a study conducted by Sift Science, 10 percent of new dating profiles created are fake. And while creating a fake identity online is a grey area, catfishing alone isn’t illegal.
There are many crimes that can accompany the catfishing experience. Often times catfishes will be trying to acquire nude photographs of their victims. If the victim is a minor, it’s considered child pornography. Under U.S. law, first-time offenders of child pornography law can face many fines and a statutory minimum of 15 to 30 years in maximum prison.
Along with the trading of nude photos, it is also possible that these predators may use photos to threaten victims. They may claim to release photos if the victim doesn’t pay them or meet any other number of demands they have. This is considered extortion under federal law and is a felony.
Adolescent girls are also at risk of danger when they are catfished. The UK National Crime Agency has estimated that rapes connected to online dating have increased from 33 in 2009 to 186 in 2014.
Dr. Jennie Noll, the director of research for behavioral medicine and clinical psychology at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, has conducted a study of teens’ online activities. The study revealed that 30 percent of teenage girls had met up with a stranger after first meeting online.
Identity fraud, extortion and child pornography have all been linked to catfishing. Forbes has also linked forms of online bullying to catfishing.
According to Dusek Law, the laws around catfishing are constantly changing. The first real court case concerning catfishing happened in 2011, when Indiana college students set up a fake Facebook profile of a 15-year-old girl to prank a former roommate. When the students confronted their former roommate, they accused him of being a pedophile and put the whole altercation on YouTube. The students were charged by the university with a breach of privacy and creating a hostile environment for their roommate. They were also suspended for year, and all of this was challenged in court on the grounds that it violated their First Amendment rights. The judge was unsympathetic of the students’ claims and ruled in accordance with the university.
Catfishing is one of the most dangerous online crimes, but also one of the least noticed. Parents and students that are active on social media are encouraged to be more cautious of who they interact with online and what they share on the internet.
The internet is a wild, untamable ocean, and it’s full of catfish.