Be careful who you friend on the internet.
This is the serious message that anyone watching MTV’s Catfish should take away. The term “catfish” is slang defined on Urban Dictionary as “someone who pretends to be someone they're not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.” The TV show that borrows the name of this recent phenomenon seeks to unite couples in online relationships who have never met in person. Obviously, sometimes this turns into a cute romantic story. And other times it gets downright eerie.
Thursday night’s episode followed the host Yaniv “Nev” Schulman, and Alex Shaffer, as they met Chitara. Chitara was a bisexual mother of two who was devastated after her online 22 year old girlfriend, Priscilla, unexpectedly broke up with her. They had been in a relationship for six months, but they never met in person. Nev and Alex did some searching, and discovered Priscilla had several fake social media accounts under multiple names. They managed to get in contact with Priscilla and asked her to meet in person with Chitara and the cameras.
Turns out, Priscilla was not her real name. Her profile picture was not her real picture. And she was not 22 years old. Her name was Ashanti, and she had just turned 18. When asked why she lied about herself and posed as a fake person, Ashanti said that “When I was 13 there was a whole bunch of drama going on… and one day I decided, why don’t I escape and become someone else for a day?” Chitara was naturally horrified. “This is a dangerous game she’s playing,” she told the cameras, shakily.
While some episodes of Catfish offer false hope that internet relationships can have a happy ending, Thursday’s episode showed the darker side of forming bonds with others online. The web can give a false sense of community and personal connection, when actually anyone can be anonymous behind their own keyboard. It is especially important to realize the damaging effects that idle internet usage by children can have, not only on themselves, but also potentially on others. One way to prevent your child from accessing unsafe material online is by installing a filter on your computer, such as Net Nanny. Like the days of not locking any doors in your house, the days of children having unrestricted access to the internet or of trusting those you meet online are over.