Last week we read, “Studying the Digital Self” by Sidonie Smith and Julia Watson, which discussed five concepts of self-presentation online. In this article, the role of the authenticity of the self and manipulability of identities were common themes. A sentence that stuck out to me was, “the utopian vision of a web enabling the free play of identity can obscure how power and access are asymmetrically distributed across differences of race, gender, ethnicity, class, and other variables,” (pg. 3). Here, the authors are discussing how anyone can claim anything about himself or herself online, regardless if it is true. Online self-presentation can give the user a blank slate in which he or she can completely recreate every aspect of their biography. This is often seen as deceitful and harmful to others, however there are two sides to this equation.

 On the one hand, many will argue that there is no credibility with online identities. Since people can make themselves appear however they want to, it is often hard to determine if any self-presentation is authentic. The question becomes, how can one know if any information released online is actually reliable? This can pose a serious problem when dealing with credible sources in the news vs. tabloids where much of the information is fabricated. It can also lead to problems in the relatively new phenomena of online dating. The show Catfish seeks to expose these “unauthentic identities”.

 A “catfish” is someone who creates fake personal profiles on social media sites, pretending to be someone more outwardly appealing that his or her actual self. They create a made up biography about their character and often use someone else’s picture to convince unsuspecting victims to fall in love with them. The show’s producers receive emails from people who feel that they may be being deceived, and then conduct extensive research on the person in question. They then try to contact that person and schedule a time to meet up, to see if they are actually who they say they are. Oftentimes, this is not the case.

 Although these “catfish” may be extremely manipulative and often hurt the people they are misleading, there is another side to be seen of them. When one of them is caught, they are often very insecure and uncomfortable with whom they are—whether they are a closeted homosexual or transgendered, etc. They may be afraid that society will not accept them for who they are, which is a completely reasonable fear. In the online world, they can present themselves however they want to see themselves. They can display their ideal selves. It is much harder to put yourself out on a pedestal in the physical world because there are so many people who do not accept “different” people. Many people are too afraid of this aversion and find comfort in pretending to be someone who they are not. This is not to say that it is right to deceive people like this, but we should see their side of it and try to make a push towards acceptance in our society. 

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3 Comments

  1. I really like your view on catfish. You look at both sides of the spectrum. Yes, these people are manipulative and hurtful to those they catfish, but also they often times are struggling with their own insecurities. I agree that we should look deeper into why they’re doing this and figure out what we can gain or learn from it.

  2. I like your take on the insecurity of these “catfish”. It definitely is an argument that holds some water. I know that the guys who treated me like trash in highschool all had fathers who were arrogant assholes. One of the guys I constantly had conflict with, while never having hit me personally, punched others and was suspended repeatedly. It came to light at the end of highschool that his father was an abusive alcoholic who beat him and his mother.

  3. Thank you for your thoughtful post. As you point out, deception in digital self-representation is not always malevolent. Often people portray themselves on-line as other than they are off-line because of their own uncomfortability with themselves and their desire for acceptance. I agree that the best approach is not a judgmental one but rather we investigate the underlying needs of these “catfish” that motivates them to misrepresent themselves, and we work to create a society where people feel more accepted as they already are. I wonder if a show like Catfish does more to shame and stigmatize, or to build understanding and acceptance? And, what motivates us to watch?

    As the article mentions, while misrepresentation happens on-line, so do some efforts to create communities of support and acceptance. People can anonymously join discussion and social networking groups for people with shared disabilities, abuse histories, body-image struggles, sexualities, etc. Some questions that come up for me: To what extent do these digital support groups do the work that non-digital groups cannot do? Or is there something crucial about meeting in person to fundamentally heal one’s self-hatred? Do people ever misrepresent themselves on these sites?

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