I have an alternate Facebook identity that I generated, in part, as a quality control for ads I create for the pages I manage. (The other part was for digital play and for networking with a demographic tangential to my own profession.) A few of my friends know about this digital Other, and have even commented or liked when me and myself have had exchanges. People from everywhere offer this fake their friendship, send messages, pokes, photos, links, and post comments in response to its status updates. At its inception, I reached out to several people for friendship to establish a credibility or authenticity. Out of over 600 friends, only one person questioned the veracity.
Here is the text of that exchange, edited to protect the privacy of both parties. Of course Facebook knows everything.
Between You and LG
L G May 21, 2008 at 10:04am Report
who are you???
FAKE IDMay 21, 2008 at 10:26am
I am [FAKE ID]
L G May 21, 2008 at 10:32am Report
why you want to be friend (sic) with me, you don t know me!!
FAKE ID May 21, 2008 at 10:34am
I know your [professional achievements]
L G May 21, 2008 at 10:50am Report
how do you know my [professional achievements]?
FAKE ID May 21, 2008 at 1:30pm
I am married to a [practitioner in your profession] and I prefer to keep my identity private. Honestly, you’re the only [practitioner] who has acted like my offer of friendship was something other than a show of respect and regard.
But, of course, I understand the desire for privacy.
Later that day, LG accepted the fake friendship; we’ve been “friends” ever since.
Keeping up with two facebook stati is quite beyond my capacity, so it’s not a full time thing. I was never much for living a double life, which is why I came out when I was 16. But human history is filled with tales of double lives that some people keep a secret until their death. Having two facebook logons isn’t like having two wives—or a wife and mistress; but it could be. I’m not using my alternate to bully teens into killing themselves, or leading on some lonely guy or girl out there looking for love or some emotional equivalent thereof. As with any technology, it all depends on how you’re using it.
Social media are excellent means for people who might otherwise not have the means to connect to people who share their experience, or point of view, or emotional need. In Tim Guest’s book Second Lives, about the much-aligned multi-user virtual environment Second Life, he introduces us to a group of house-bound disabled people, who use the 3D platform to create an experience and form of community with a depth of connection other forms of media could not provide.
Facebook, of course, is no different than Second Life, in that it is a virtual environment, and by definition is a mediated environment, as in not real. But in Second Life, where the standard is to create an avatar that is as “extra” as possible, the Facebook norm is to “be yourself.” Now that’s a can of worms—or a tub of catfish, to be exact. When are we ever completely ourselves? Maybe when we are alone. Maybe when we are with our families or loved ones. Maybe all the other times, there are degrees of ourselves we allow to show, a phenomenon often magnified in situations like job interviews, first dates, or black tie affairs.
If you’ve never read Erving Goffman’s “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,” there is no better time than now.
This isn’t the early days of chat rooms and emailing headless pictures with fabulous bodies and lying about your age, or switching gender for online role play. But don’t think that just like in real life, plenty of people aren’t still lying about their age, sucking in their guts, and telling potential hook-ups that they’re not married when they are—or completely representing a false reality of who they are. It’s easy to be sympathetic for someone caught up in such lies, and easy to play on sympathy for dreams deferred or obliterated by life’s toughness; but it’s hard to avoid that there’s some serious emotional issues that got everyone there in the first place.
Back to the truth.
Catfish is both provocative and a continuation of the scam; it could have been a 10-20 minute YouTube or Vimeo video, and I guarantee that when the footage becomes available, someone (or me) is going to edit it accordingly. Save your money; it’s not the next Blair Witch. Of all the lessons I can take from watching this, it’s that people will do anything for love (driving to Michigan) or money (making this free Internet love fable into a movie people have to pay to see). Aside from the real husband, there’s not a single redeeming adult, just a pathological (and sad) liar with numerous fake Facebook identities who calls one of her two autistic children “very retarded,” and a pathological (and sad) self-absorbed photographer who long distance stalks the imaginary older sister of a little girl who paints his published photos.
It’s a cautionary tale for the Internet age that nobody should have to be told twice:
check your privacy settings everyone.