Gemma Styles: How New Technology Is Fishing Out Catfish Online
The Debrief: Here's how to never get hooked on a catfish's bait.
Photo by Matilda Hill Jenkins
Dating has always been a minefield. I’ve watched enough telly from the 90s to know that meeting people wasn’t exactly as simple as happy ever after before apps and social media came along, but as far as I can tell – as much as it helps, it hinders. Or Tinders. Something like that.
The thing about the internet is that you don’t necessarily know who you’re talking to, whether they’re even a real person, or whether they’ve just lifted some pictures from a dormant Myspace account and hit OK Cupid – since 2010, in the world of dating, this phenomenon is known as ‘catfishing’. The film that coined the term has gone on to be adapted into a very successful TV show, helping to highlight how often this happens, with scores of people being fooled into thinking they’re having a normal chat, or even lengthy relationship, when really they’re talking to their neighbour’s-cousin’s-sister’s-babysitter’s-dog-walker.
As far as the episodes that I've seen go, the worst thing that tends to happen when people meet their catfish is a whole lot of upset and hurt feelings - but the potential is so much worse when you haven't got a couple of blokes and their camera crew to back you up. Whether they flat out turn up to meet you or hatch some other kind of plan, if you've started an online relationship with someone they tend to know personal information about you, including where to find you if you've set up a date. I do have a tendency to imagine the worst but - it's pretty scary stuff.
Unsurprisingly, Catfishing is the bane of many tech companies' lives. Which is why some of them are making concerted efforts to tackle it. Badoo (who I’d only heard of recently, but has been around for donkeys years - in 2015 it was the top dating app in 21 countries, surpassing Tinder. Who knew?) is one.
They try to make sure that fake profiles are kept off the platform from the outset. And this is the clever bit: profile information is subject to verification; for pictures this means that to get yourself ‘verified’ you need to take a selfie in a particular pose. I had a go at this and sent them a very nice picture copying the woman on screen doing a sort of wave..? Verification doesn’t take long and thankfully they agreed that yes, I was who I said I was. No catfish over here. When you’re an app user and looking to meet people you see on their page whether they’ve verified their photos – having done it myself I would be a little suspicious of people who haven’t now, as it literally takes 30 seconds.
Just in case you’ve got yourself a pro catfish and they’ve managed to find a picture of their impersonatee (not a word but it should be), if you’ve started to chat and are suspicious that they’re too good to be true, you can also request a selfie – this is within the app itself rather than an upload so should be a fairly solid way to check that they are who they say they are.
It’s a bit sad that app makers have to incorporate these features to dating apps in order to prevent fakey fake fakers from wasting our time (or worse), but at the end of the day, we’ve learned by now that there will always be people out there looking to circumvent technologies for their own grubby reasons. Facilities like these are hopefully a way to prevent yourself being vulnerable – while I’m not looking to meet anyone, there was a very polite woman who messaged me wanting to know if I was interested in a threesome… and her photo was verified. While I wasn’t interested, it was still oddly comforting to know that at least she was real. After all, whatever your dating preferences, everyone seems to be hopping online to make it happen – and the fight to keep us safe is still moving on.
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