I believe social media is a valuable tool for social and business connection. All of my clients communicate with me exclusively online. I also would never have met some of my best friends without social media. That being said, we all know that making social connections online is risky, due to the web’s anonymous nature. I know of these risks first-hand. Let me preface this story though, by saying I believe this experience was particularly exceptional, and isn’t necessarily representative of online connections as a whole.
In early 2012, I started using social media platforms to connect with people for creative projects. I found a group of people looking for additional talents through YouTube. The group thought I would be a good fit for the role they were looking for, so they brought me in and invited me to their Skype group chat. We used Skype to communicate through text and voice chat, and to share files stored on cloud sites such as Dropbox. At this time, we weren’t professionals; we were young people from all over the world, who wanted to share our talents with a community, so we came together to work on a project. We were all excited, and we all became fast friends.
There were warning signs from the beginning.
The director of this project, let’s call him Tommy, was mostly friendly but comically egotistical. I can still hear his drawling voice boasting over his subscriber count. Tommy was very possessive of his project, constantly lording over us with his leader status. He also refused to entertain the idea of releasing smaller-scale products concurrently with his Big Project. He was still a friend, just one we kept at arm’s length.
Things got weird.
Tommy quickly became romantically involved with a girl on the team, let’s call her Ana. Ana had a brother– call him Evan – that occasionally helped with small tasks. Evan didn’t have a role in the project at first, but he became a friend, too.
Tommy and Ana’s relationship became pretty involved, but the rest of us started noticing strange things about Ana and Evan. They never talked at the same time, for one, and all of us thought Ana’s voice sounded strange, like a forced whisper. We tried bring up our concerns to Tommy, but our speculations were disregarded every time.
Everything turned around overnight.
After a few months, Tommy finally allowed a portion of the team to work on a small project to boost our audience. So, we began working on a project that would become our first official release to our new YouTube channel. Meanwhile, Tommy talked about buying a plane ticket to see Ana in person.
A few days later, Evan started a Skype call with terrible news. He and Ana had been in a car accident with a drunk driver. Evan was okay, but Ana had tragically passed away. Tommy was inconsolable, and we all mourned our friend.
We thought it couldn’t get worse.
The next day, I got online to find everyone in a call again, panicked and scrambling for information. In the early morning, Tommy had left a final goodbye message to us.
However, our concern was short-lived; Tommy soon joined the call, unharmed and not a danger to himself. Tommy apparently had suspicions about Ana, and was trying to coerce the truth out of Evan. Tommy just needed our concern to be genuine in order for the threat to work.
The truth was that Ana never existed. Evan had pretended to be two people the entire time. Tommy told us that Evan had made Ana up to get close to him.
Initially, we were shocked and angry at Evan. How could our friend manipulate us like that? Then, our anger turned to Tommy, for the exact same reasons. The entire situation was beyond messed up, and both Tommy and Evan sat at the heart of the cause. So, every single one of us left the group. We then regrouped as a new team, without Tommy and Evan.
Turns out, the Silver Lining was worth the mess.
We finally released the small project we’d been working on, and continued to do small projects for the duration of the channel’s existence. We amassed an audience of over 200,000 people across our social media platforms. We attended conventions, networked with industry professionals, and best of all, we worked together as a real team. Nearly nine years later, this group remains some of my closest friends. Even though the channel is no longer active, we all still collaborate and help each other out. I believe that this experience bonded us, perhaps permanently.
What does the experience mean to me today? Well, thankfully it didn’t continue to sit in my brain and become a traumatic experience. I believe I have my network of friends to thank for the recovery of our well-being. It does serve as a cautionary reminder, though, to stay alert when making online connections.
What is “Catfishing” exactly? One site from TechTarget defines a Catfish as someone who fakes their online identity (Rouse, 2014). They also continue to outline a few warning signs, such as:
– Not wanting to meet in person or chat over webcams
– Claiming a serious disease/injury
– Attractive profile pictures
– Giving personal information that doesn’t make sense
– Asking for money (Rouse, 2014)
So, if you have suspicions about anyone you may be communicating with online, or you know someone who is talking to suspicious person, be on the lookout for these warning signs.
Have you ever had a strange encounter with an online persona? What did you learn from the experience? Tell me your thoughts in the comments below.
Twitter: You won’t believe this Catfishing story! Read about it here: https://bit.ly/36srxEc
Facebook: You never know who you’re talking to online. Read one person’s wild story about Catfishing here: https://bit.ly/36srxEc
Rouse, M. (2014, June). Definition: catfish. Retrieved from https://whatis.techtarget.com/definition/catfish