The Security in Faking

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The extent to which people go to in order to fake their identity over social media has dangerously evolved.

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The Security in Faking

An ongoing trend since the internet became popular, catfishing, has continued to impact teenagers’ lives. With the growth in a variety of different social medias such as Snapchat, Twitter and Instagram, catfishing is easily accessible for anyone who is willing to do it. The comfort found in hiding behind a screen attracts many people with personal problems to release their emotions onto a screen, embracing the safety of anonymity. Based on the editorial staff at NextShark, the four most common reasons for catfishing are revenge, loneliness, curiosity and boredom.

What is Catfishing?

When an individual uses social media to create a fake identity in order to get something in return out of real people, that is called catfishing. The name given to faking an identity online comes from the 2010 documentary, “Catfish.” Whether the catfish’s purpose is to pursue a fake relationship, get online company, recieve nude pictures, bully or stalk someone, using this strategy can be dangerous for both parties involved. Nowadays, one can find a person’s location with a pinch of their fingers on the Snapchat feature, SnapMap. People can track whether their friends are driving, eating or listening to music. The modernization of apps has brought upon a whole new platform when stealing someone’s identity. There are two types of catfishing: the first one involves creating a completely fake profile with a made up name and identity; the other is using an already existent person as the base of the profile, such as a classmate, a friend or a relative.

“We don’t get these situations often,” officer Brussaly from the Antioch Police Department said. “The ones we do get are in the high school age bracket or middle school age bracket.”

Creating a Fake Identity

This type of catfishing is more related to curious or sex-driven individuals. Oftentimes, it’s used in a way to create online relationships and make the target share personal parts of their life. Along with this comes the sending of nude pictures, a trend that seemed to have swept Generation Z. With the belief that the fake account is a real person, one starts to trust the username they’re chatting with online. With this trust comes the likeability and comfort in always having someone there to talk to, even though it’s just through social media. This leads the victim to have faith in what they’re being told and eventually give in to what is asked of them, in many cases, sending naked pictures of themselves. These situations get worse when the catfish asks to meet in real life, a way to get their target to a specific location and take advantage of them physically.

A lot of times, those with low self esteem will create these fake identities simply because they are afraid to put their real selves out on the internet. Based on Brat Alan Investigations, many catfish are simply playing an emotional game hence they have low self-esteem, are lonely and have fear of revealing themselves. It’s way easier to communicate and have confidence when one’s true persona is hidden behind a screen and a made up name. According to NextShark, those catfishing are addicted to the false persona and have a fantasy in their heads about it. The internet allows a catfish to become who they’ve dreamed of being their whole life in just a couple of minutes of typing up a profile.

Based on Officer Brussaly’s experiences, this kind of catfishing becomes legally involved when the sharing of nude pictures becomes prevalent. If pictures are shared by the catfish without the consent of the victim, harassment charges and in some cases, even child pornography charges could be issued to the catfish.

Hosts of the show “Catfish,” which televises different scenarios of people getting catfished, believe their show is a part of the reason why this internet trend has become continuously popular. In an interview with Fox News, both hosts agreed that even if the victims have some sense that they are getting lied to, they continue to live in the fantasy because it is easier to continue a fake relationship, rather than deal with the harsh truth that they’re alone. In a technology dependent generation, such parts as online chatting can be seen as addictions that individuals cannot give up.

Using Another Person’s Identity

This strategy comes from a more malevolent side of individuals, those who purposely want to hurt another’s reputation or name. These catfish take on the name of an already known person and use it to their advantage. Whether it’s the popular football “jock,” someone’s ex or friend, anonymous identities hidden behind these names use catfishing as a way for revenge or bullying. Senior Savannah Ray experienced this type of catfishing for herself. Her ex-boyfriend took on multiple names of other boys in school and used Snapchat to contact her. Along with this, he used burner phones to communicate with her parents and to create a divide between her and them.

“He was mentally and emotionally abusive, so during our whole relationship he had to be in control,” Ray said. “Even after we were broken up, he had to be in control of my life.”

People that need control over others’ lives use social media as a way to see what they’re up to. Sometimes, it’s purely just to get a reaction out of them. Other times, it’s to ruin someone else’s reputation. Whether it’s out of jealousy and envy or the need of control, catfish that take on others’ names do not have good intentions. In no situation does one have the right to pretend to be someone else.

Why would someone pretend to be someone else that they know? Raychelle Lohmann of Psychology Today states that it’s a large part of cyberbullying. There have been many cases of catfishing that resulted with the impersonator getting charged with defamation (damaging of good reputation) and emotional distress. Cyberbullying becomes so much easier when it comes from an alleged other person; not only does this impact the victim, but it also impacts the person whose name is being used: two birds killed with one stone.

More oftenly, the Antioch Police Department has seen the occurrence of malevolent catfishing in friendships rather than intimate relationships; the reason behind this being friends trying to get revenge on one another when things in the friendship go wrong.

Legal Recourse in Illinois

Based on the Law Office of Greenberg & Sinkovits, catfishing can have severe legal consequences in the state of Illinois. A catfishing case can qualify for fraudulent misrepresentation if it meets the following checklist: a false statement of material fact (a material fact being one which is “crucial” to an issue or event); known or believed to be false by the party making it; intent to induce the victim to act; action by the victim in justifiable reliance on the truth of the statement and damage to the victim resulting from such reliance. If the court has proof of these 5 requirements, then the catfish is most likely going to get charged with fraudulent misrepresentation and get fitting legal penalties.

Legally, everything depends on the extremity of the situation. Unfortunately, there are no legal consequences for lying, or communicating with someone through a fake account. It also depends on the age of the people involved — juvenile to juvenile catfishing isn’t going to have consequences as severe as juvenile to adult catfishing. Matters get more serious when proof of harassment or pictures that can be labeled as child pornography can be found. In that case, the appropriate criminal charges will follow (APL).

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