CATFISH INVADE ONLINE GROUPS
ARE YOU SURE YOU KNOW WHO YOU ARE TALKING TO?
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