After watching the popular MTV show, Catfish, the other day I realized that hey, I’ve been Catfished! I mean, it’s not something that I would be adding to my resume anytime soon, but it definitely gave me a wake up call with regards to internet safety. I know you’re curious now. So here’s the low down: A couple of years ago I received a very weird Facebook inbox message from a random guy, who was not on my friends list, asking me for my email address. Now even though I was very much young and unmarried back then, I wasn’t keen on giving my email address to a stranger. But this bloke was persistent, saying that he had something VERY important to tell me. After much back and forthing, curiosity won, and I finally gave him my deets. What he sent to me shocked me!
He began his story right at the beginning, explaining that he was from Kwazulu-Natal. He shared that he had broken up with the love of his life a few years before and it left him so heartbroken and devastated. (And I’m wondering what all of this has to do with me!) At the time of the break up, he was in desperate need of company and a shoulder to cry on, so he logged onto the Mxit app on his cellphone and joined a chat group.
For those who dont know: Mxit was the cellphone chatting platform of choice back then. It is different to Whatsapp in that you would need to”log in” via your cellphone number and a password each time you want to chat. You also had to add people to your chat list, by sending an invite to their cellphone numbers, which they had to accept.
He met a young lady in the Mxit chat group and they immediately hit it off. It was like love at first chat. She counseled him through his break up and they shared intimate moments together. It eventually led to them having a serious online relationship where they chatted every day and shared “I love yous”.
They also sent each other countless photos – He felt like he knew her. He knew every freckle on her face, the way her head tilted when she smiled, the lines of her cheekbones, he knew her favorite clothes – Keeping in mind that they had never met before. He said that they would pray for each other every night… he would look at her pics and say a prayer, before tenderly kissing it good night. This guy was smitten. (The story was getting interesting but I was still confused… why are you telling me, dude?)
One day she had a problem with her Mxit app and asked him to log onto it from his side, so that he could fix whatever error there was. He did so, logging on via her password. As soon as he was online, various people starting chatting to him, thinking that he was her. BUT they were calling her a different name. He began to dig and discovered that she had been lying about her name this whole time! For years he had called her by a name that did not belong to her! He felt betrayed and confronted her. She admitted to lying to him and asked him not to be mad.
Further investigating on Facebook revealed that her Facebook profile that popped up had all the info she shared with him – the city she lived in, her age etc. BUT. The profile pic was NOT the same girl that he had been chatting with on Mxit. In fact, none of her photos matched his girl. He freaked out. He began to look through her Facebook friends list and finally spotted her face. And her face belonged to another name. Her face belonged to me.
He immediately connected the dots and realized that his girl had been sending him MY photos for years! He felt cheated and betrayed. I dont blame the oke. He decided to make contact with me to let me know that someone had been stealing my pics and passing it off as their own. He was extremely emotional about it, saying that he feels like he has been living a lie, because he was so inlove with this girl and it was one big charade.
As if that wasnt enough to generate a large freak out session, I received another message on Facebook from a muslim guy that I knew through friends of friends of friends. He asked me why I was posting my pics on other websites under a different name and don’t I think that I’m being kinda fake? I was like, “huh?” Literally.
Turns out my Catfisher had created a profile on muslim dating website, Muslima, using my photos to lure possible future husbands! Always a fun time. I went to check it out and yep, there I was – my smiley face, my details (from PE, 20something etc), but that was not my name! I had since logged a report with the site and I see that the profile has been removed.
Even though I was quite young and very self involved, this still made me so fearful and spurred on a lot of questions with regards to sharing my photos via social media. At that point I was the self proclaimed selfie queen, as I’ve said in a previous post. I mean, I was into selfies before they had a name for it. (yes, I had issues). After the catfish scare, I went on a cleaning spree and removed a lot of pics from my Facebook and MySpace accounts. I also unfriended hundreds of Facebook friends as well. (At that point I had thousands). My unfriend process was: If it’s your birthday today, and I don’t know you, then I will unfriend. Happy Birthday.
The Catfish was a HUGE wake up call with regards to identity safety. And to be honest, even though all of this happened when Facebook was less secure, identity safety is still not promised on any social medium. How conscious are we about what we put up there for the world to see and help themselves to? Something to think about.