Most Kansans know catfish to be a type of bottom-dwelling fish that they enjoy catching and eating. But another use for that word is gaining prominence. “Catfish” also is known as the practice of setting up a fake identity with someone else’s photo and name on social media — most commonly Twitter and Facebook — and tricking people with that identity, sometimes even convincing them to fall in love with fake identity.
The practice apparently is becoming so common that MTV recently renewed a TV commitment with the creators of “Catfish” for a second year. On the TV show, two men, creator Nev Schulman — who was himself “catfished,” he says — and filmmaker Max Joseph, set out to help online couples physically meet to see if the two parties have been duped — or if both individuals in the online relationship truly are who they claim.
Many people might wonder how someone can even consider themselves to be in a relationship without ever having met their significant other face-to-face, but the recent complicated and bizarre situation between Manti Te’o, a Notre Dame football player and Heisman trophy nominee, and his “hoax” two-year relationship suggests people are easily manipulated or just too naïve and devoid of common sense. In Te’o’s case, as well as in many of those situations profiled on “Catfish,” such virtual relationships amount to virtually nothing.
Why people aren’t more suspicious and cynical is difficult to fathom, especially when building intimate relationships. Marriage rates are down in the United States from 8.2 per 1,000 people in population 10 years ago to 6.8 today — that’s down 20 percent from 72.1 percent in 1960 to 52 percent in 2008. The reduction in marriages is, in part, because of couples’ desire for financial stability before getting married, often resulting in a later average age for first marriages — age 28.1 for men and 25.9 for women. During that same time frame, the percentage of adults who are divorced or separated rose from 5 percent to 14 percent, while the number of duos who were never married — also known as co-habitating couples — rose from 15 percent to 27 percent.
Marriage clearly isn’t what it once was in the United States, but young people should know they are unlikely to build a lasting relationship with someone they have never truly met. If the virtual relationship seems to good to be true, then it probably isn’t the real deal.
Bottom dwellers abound and those seeking romance should not trust what they haven’t seen in person.
— Jeanny Sharp, editor and publisher