CAT­FISH IN­VADE ON­LINE GROUPS

ARE YOU SURE YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE TALK­ING TO?

City Weekend - - Community -

When we were lit­tle, we were taught that there is al­ways safety in num­bers. If you must walk down a de­serted street, do so with a group of friends and keep your eyes peeled. Re­cently, a group of les­bians on WeChat have found that some­times that is not al­ways so. Some­times one’s safety within a group can be com­pro­mised by the very prin­ci­ple that holds it to­gether: the as­sump­tion of same­ness.

Two LGBT groups on WeChat were in­fil­trated by overly ex­plicit and ag­gres­sive “fe­males” who tried to so­licit “meet-ups” with their mem­bers via pri­vate mes­sag­ing. How did it hap­pen? Sim­ple. The women as­sumed that the per­son adding them on WeChat was a les­bian, a fe­male mem­ber of the LGBT com­mu­nity or, at least, a fe­male friend of the com­mu­nity. They judged wrong. The women were be­ing “cat­fished” by some­one who they have come to be­lieve is a man. The word “cat­fish” (out­side re­lat­ing to the ac­tual fish) refers to a per­son who sets up a false per­sonal pro­file on a so­cial net­work­ing site for fraud­u­lent or de­cep­tive pur­poses, ac­cord­ing to the Mer­riam Web­ster dic­tionary. “‘She’ sounded cool in the be­gin­ning, like ‘hey, I just ar­rived in town, and I am look­ing to meet some peo­ple or what­ever’, and she told me she worked for an air­line,” said the ad­min­is­tra­tor for one of the groups who was also pri­vately mes­saged by this per­son. One mem­ber got sus­pi­cious and men­tioned it in the groups, and it snow­balled. More women shared how they had a sim­i­lar neg­a­tive ex­pe­ri­ence with the user. “She” ex­ited the group be­fore she got booted and deleted the WeChat ac­count. How­ever, about a week later, the same user re­turned with a new photo, new name, and a strik­ingly sim­i­lar story: in town for a short time, works for an air­line, wants to meet. This time, “she” was added to the group by a known mem­ber whom, when con­tacted by the ad­min­is­tra­tor, said she “knew” ‘her.’ But when asked the ex­act word­ing of her ini­tial ques­tion to the known mem­ber, the ad­min­is­tra­tor never quite spelled out know­ing as in hav­ing met in real life, and that is the prob­lem. As so­cial me­dia be­comes more ubiq­ui­tous, it is easy for peo­ple to feel like they know a per­son they have met on­line. Af­ter all, they can see their pho­tos and videos and talk, right? But there are times when what you see is not what you get, and those times it can be dan­ger­ous. The per­son on WeChat, for ex­am­ple, came off as friendly un­til the per­son they were talk­ing to sensed “red flags.” One per­son, ND McCray, from the U.S., men­tioned be­ing asked if she “got a happy end­ing” by the user when she men­tioned that she had just re­turned from a mas­sage. Another, Selina Kyle (not her real name), was texted about sex with a “dildo strapped” with some winks. “It was too much,” the ad­min­is­tra­tor said. “It was very straight­for­ward.” Checks with male mem­bers of three sep­a­rate gay groups sug­gest that this kind of scam­ming has not oc­curred in any of the groups they are in, which would mean that fe­male-ori­ented groups are be­ing tar­geted of sorts. “Yes, I’m fa­mil­iar with men cat­fish­ing other men, but I’ve mostly heard about it hap­pen­ing in other places,” said A. “I am not fa­mil­iar with any Chin­abased cases, though I’m sure there are some.” The cases A are fa­mil­iar with are U.S.-based. For ex­am­ple, he men­tioned a man in the U.S. who he said is “quite shame­less about find­ing and steal­ing women’s pho­tos, then us­ing those to en­cour­age straight men to send him pho­tos.” “It’s dis­hon­est, but be­cause mes­sag­ing sys­tems like Snapchat or Face­book are anony­mous; there’s no way to re­ally know who you are talk­ing to.” China does a good job of en­forc­ing a real name reg­is­tra­tion sys­tem, but that works on the back end of the plat­form. A per­son can still write what­ever they want as their pro­file name. So, what ladies sug­gest is to be a lit­tle bit more crit­i­cal of those that send them re­quests from groups.

The groups are gen­er­ally safe, but that does not mean you should ne­glect your per­sonal safety.

Clau­dine Housen writes to give voice to the marginal­ized

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