Facebook – Hacking vs. Catfishing

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Spoofing / Catfishing
Thanks to the movie Catfish and the MTV Catfish series that followed, it’s now pretty well-known that there’s a surprisingly large group of people who like to set up fake social media profiles and populate those profiles with pictures taken from someone else’s real social media account. Sometimes the person behind the fake profile will even use the other person’s real name on the fake profile.

When someone sends a fake email, posing as a legitimate business in order to trick the recipient into giving away personal or financial details, it’s called spoofing. In the social media world, where the motive isn’t purely financial and has more to do with stringing others along, it’s called catfishing and the person doing it is called a catfish.

In some cases the catfish has truly destructive intentions, and uses the fake profile to ruin one specific person’s real-life reputation and relationships, but based on hours of Catfish viewing (it’s one of my daughter’s favorite shows) I’ve concluded that most of the time the reasons people do this boil down to being bored, lonely, and having low self-esteem to the point where they just want to “be someone else” for a while.


Catfishing is NOT Hacking
Victims of catfishing have not actually had their accounts hacked.

The catfish merely found the photos and posts someone else publicly shared, downloaded or copied them, and then posted those things to their fake account. The legitimate person’s real account has not been compromised in any way, and the catfish has not obtained some kind of back-door access to the real person’s account.

Because of this, dealing with a fake catfish profile that claims to be you is actually more difficult than dealing with a hacked social media account. If your actual account had been hacked, you could just change your password or shut down the account and open a new one. A hassle, but still a relatively easy solution.

But if someone else has created a totally separate account under your name using your pictures and information, you’re fairly powerless to do much about it. You can’t login to that account, and if you try telling people you’re being catfished and that other person is not you, the catfish will usually claim you’re the catfish and suddenly the burden of proof shifts to you.


Can You Protect Yourself From Catfish?
The only absolutely bulletproof way to protect yourself from catfish is to never have any social media accounts. Even if you mark everything “private” or “friends only”, data leaks happen all the time so those security settings are no guarantee of safety.

A stopgap would be to never post images of yourself, your friends and family, never share personally-identifying details (e.g., where you work, go or went to school, town you live in, etc.) and to never use your real name when posting online, but that kind of defeats the purpose of social media.

Personally, I’m not too worried about it. It’s a major phenomenon among young people and in the world of online romantic relationships, but since I’m 50 and not using my social media accounts to try and meet romantic prospects, it’s not a realistic worry for me to have. Also, I have no illusions that someone who wants to “be someone else for a while” would choose me and my life as some kind of fantasy ideal; they’re usually going to play-act at being someone much younger, more glamorous, and more physically attractive.

I’d have a much bigger concern about this affecting my children, who are 19 and 13 respectively, but neither is active on social media and both have been well-schooled in the importance of not sharing personally-identifying details online.

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One Comment

  1. Comment by Anna Rose:

    They also seem to do this to use the person’s friend collection to buy some product or service. It’s just a nasty bit of unpleasantness, all around.