How could Borat’s and Brad Pitt’s identity swap happen unnoticed and what are social platforms’ roles to prevent it from happening?
Catfishing and cyber identity stealing is a problem, that’s for sure. Mostly, there are two types of victims of this phenomenon: people are either too naïve, dupable or ignorant to see the bad in other people or people choose to believe otherwise because they don’t want to lose the relationship they have created with the person on the other side of the screen, even though their intuition tells them to step out of the game. Since naivety, dupability and ignorance are personal traits (of the victims) that could hardly be changed, if change is possible at all, and people who are in love are blind to anyone else’s opinion than their lovers, we need to focus on the other group of people that are playing a crucial role in this social problem, the catfishers themselves.
The reason people choose to catfish others can vary. People could do it out of boredom or because they indeed have malicious intentions towards their fellow human beings. But as a loyal Catfish follower, I know that most people don’t intent to harm or deceive others. This brings another thing to my mind, what if the catfishers are victims themselves? They could be victims of mental disorders which they have no knowledge about. Mental disorders are not something one can perceive from the outside and there are certainly no full body scans which can determine you are indeed suffering from it or not (Mayo Clinic, 2013). Since it is so hard to recognize mental disorders or to distinguish it from normal mental health, patients often could not tell themselves if they are disordered or not. If people don’t know about their condition and pretending to be someone else is the only thing that keeps them from suicide thoughts (I might slightly exaggerating here, but still it is not implausible), do we really have the right, or are we really that cruel to interfere with these people’s pursuit of happiness?
Therefore, I think we need a different approach to fix this problem. Whether intended or not, every (potential) catfisher needs to make a fake profile in order to deceive others. Therefore, (minor) changes about the way of registering a new account are the first step to tackle the problem. If Facebook, or any other social media platform, shines more light on the importance of virtually identity fraud cases, more people would be aware of it. They don’t need to cram the (registering) pages with warnings signs about catfishers but subtle, minor steps of change might add a lot of value. For example, Facebook could bring their policy about fake profiles under the loop and show it directly on the register page, instead of referring to their policy which is left unread by most users. Just by pointing this particular point out, people might be more conscious about their intention. By raising awareness of the (virtually) crime the potential catfishers are about to commit, the idea and fear of getting caught should be increased. This could be just enough for the haloed angel on their shoulder to shine the light on the right path.
Another thing that could be added to the page is links to (anonymous) blogs where people share their stories about catfishing, whether being the catfisher or the victim. This way, potential catfishers could read about real life stories and see what damage they actually could bring by doing something what they thought is not that tremendous. Showing the consequences may trigger guilt and if we assume people are not natural evil creatures, it should be enough to let people think twice about their actions.
Lastly, it is important to emphasize the fact that it is okay to reach out for help. Having the intention of pretending to be someone else does not mean that you are directly stamped as a bad person. There could be more to your own story where others have no knowledge about. Potential catfisher should get the impression that it is okay for them to discuss about their own problems instead of drowning someone else along. Since a sincere smile can be life-saving (Berger, 2015), simple sentences on the register page which shows empathy would do the magic. If we want to take it to a more professional level, names of psychologists or social institutions could be added to the register page as well to let people know where they could find the help they needed.
To put it in a nutshell, catfishers are not always people who have bad intentions to hurt you. They are often the ones that need help more than the victims do. So the next time you find something remarkable about the person you’re virtually connected with, show empathy and discuss openly about his/her problems so we could be one step closer of restoring faith in humanity.
Berger, M.N., (2015) Preventing Suicide, http://marcianaomiberger.com/mental-health/preventing-suicide/, 7 oktober 2015.
Mayo Clinic Staff (2013) Mental health: What’s normal, what’s not, http://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/adult-health/in-depth/mental-health/art-20044098, 7 oktober 2015.