Catfishing – Advice and Safety Tips for Parents

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(Image via MTV)

What is a catfish?

Catfish is a slang term used to describe someone who creates a false identity online. The term originated from a 2010 U.S documentary, titled Catfish. The film follows a young man who developed an online relationship with a woman, only to find out the person he thought he was communicating with was someone else. Following on from the success of the documentary, MTV now has a hit TV show with the same name.

Why do people catfish?

The term catfishing refers to the process of befriending or chatting with someone online, while using a fake identity. Not all people who catfish do it for malicious reasons. Some people catfish due to self-esteem issues or out of loneliness and some people do it out of sheer boredom. Nevertheless, catfishing can be harmful to people and there can be more sinister motives for the modern phenomenon including:

Cyber Bullying and Catfishing

Unfortunately, it can be a common occurrence for a catfish to create a false identity for purposes of cyber bullying and trolling. If you are a victim of cyber bullying or are worried about your child being affected, keep a record of any correspondence, block the person and speak to someone you trust about it. It is against the terms of service of many social networks to provide false information or create an account using another person’s details and images.

Online Predators and Catfishing

Catfishing can also be a way for online predators to target/befriend children and teens. To help minimise risks, parents should encourage children to be smart online and help them to understand how easy it is to create a false profile online. Remind them always to be wary of accepting friend requests from people they haven’t met in real life.

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Tips for spotting a Catfish online

Here’s a few things to look out for if you are worried someone isn’t who they say they are online:

  • Profile photos – Look out for overly photo-shopped or retouched images. Fake accounts may also have only one profile photo.
  • Adopt a common sense approach. Many catfish will pretend they are professional models, in these cases, if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.
  • Accounts with few followers/friends.
  • Accounts with little activity or interactions on their profile. For example not tagged in photos, no interests or likes etc.

Remember consent is needed to share images of someone else. In the case of U-18’s permission must be given by the parent. If you spot a fake account, report it to the service provider. Most social networks and apps allow you to report fake profiles. See below for details on how to report profiles on some of the more popular sites/networks.

Facebook – facebook.com/help/report-fake-account

YouTube – google.com/youtube/report

Instagram – help.instagram.com/report

Twitter – support.twitter.com/forms/impersonation

 

Protecting your photos online

One of the big concerns recently for Irish teens is privacy and the risk of their images being used to set up fake social media profiles. Social media is all about sharing pictures and teens love to share! However, some children may not be aware of how easily it can be to take photos from social media sites and profiles, including their own. Here’s a few tips for talking to your child about protecting his/her privacy and images online.

  • Talk to your child about privacy settings. Many children may not be aware that some social networks are set to public by default. This means anything they share including photos can be seen by anyone.
  • Ask your child if they know how easy it can be to take images from their social media sites. Depending on your privacy settings, some images can be downloaded directly from social networks by others. Alternatively it is very easy to screenshot photos from sites like Instagram and Twitter.
  • If you or your child are worried their image might be used by someone else, you can do an image search on Google. You can either type their name into Google image search or upload their image directly. Google will search for the same image online and any similar images. If you discover that someone is using your image or your child’s image without consent, report it directly to the service provider and they should remove it.
  • Encourage your child to close down any inactive social media accounts. Social media and networks change quickly and teens are always eager to move on to the next big thing. However, they may forget about networks they were previously on and leave old profiles inactive. People who catfish often find images on inactive social media accounts.

 

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