It’s Monday night, and I’m alone in my apartment. If you were to look at me in that exact moment you would see me two episodes deep into MTV’s Catfish the TV Show. Aside from my obsession with both LSAT Blog Logic Analysis Online DatingNev and Max, the leads, I find myself terribly interested in the causation of this behavior. The idea that someone creates a false sense of self, and rather than living that fantasy alone drags people into it is very scary.

I understand the appeal of creating an alternate identity as a young person. Even my Myspace days consisted of my best friend and I creating a fake profile named Heath Arno Deveroux. The only difference between us and these people is that “Heath” didn’t talk to anyone. He was there for our own amusement. As a 16-year-old locked in a tower at my parent’s house, he was the only male contact I had so I made him write things on my Myspace page.

However, as an adult I realize that even though I was not maliciously talking to anyone, I still took someone’s profile picture and turned it into something completely different. Multiply that a few times and you have a stolen identity! Ok, perhaps not that far, but you do have a serious problem.

In a recent episode I have watched our hosts/personal investigators Max and Nev get to the bottom of a sham online relationship. In it they discover that the pictures the catfish victim was receiving were of a real girl. In fact, she lived in the UK with a boyfriend and a baby. Turns out these photos were taken from the original girls social media accounts, turned into a new identity and used to talk to people online and develop relationships.

loveonlineSo part of me understands making a new identity to play pretend once in awhile, however a much larger part of me does not. Even after I have watched so many episodes of this TV show I still can not come to an underlying, fundamental reason for these fake relationships. Occasionally the people become friends but more often this long-term online relationship doesn’t only just end but never actually existed, at least in the victim’s eyes. The individual who was “catfished” is left sad and without closure.

So what is the reason for this!? Why are so many people resigned to online dating and meeting in chat rooms? Or, more importantly, after the first refusal to video chat are continuing this relationship. Our SmartFem team has recently been talking about how social media has affected relationships and perpetuated a more rude in-person behavior. Factor in cyber bullying and dropping confidence levelsand you get a perfect combination to create a fake profile for some attention and love or to bully someone’s emotions. You also get the perfect formula for a television show, as MTV’s Catfish gives us.

Clearly the show has entertainment value, after all, I’ve managed to hook (no pun intended) my boyfriend on the show. But I also feel that the show serves as a cautionary tail. In the first years of the show’s creation the internet and the idea of online dating was very new to everyone so the rise of false identities happened. However, now it is almost common knowledge that the person behind the name and pictures could not be them. Catfish brought this problem to light, and it is a very real, dangerous catfish-the-tv-showproblem. There are sometimes years dedicated to an online relationship that never truly blossoms because the person behind the picture is someone completely different. Bottom line is, be safe with online dating. If a situation feels fishy employ some of the tactics Nev and Max use to get to the bottom of things.

Smartfem wants to know: If you do partake in online dating, how do you stay safe? Do you require them to send a picture holding your name or insist on a video chat as soon as you hit it off? What are your opinions on these “catfishers”? Do you feel sympathy, as I sometimes do when it comes to low self-esteem or do you feel irritation because they started a relationship based on lies?