The Media Maven: Avoiding Catfishing 101

By Rachael Smith, Alumna of Radford University

When I first heard of the new MTV series “Catfish” a few months back, I would have never guessed it would be a show about online dating. I’ve only heard the term used in two ways: one most commonly for cooking the actual fish, but the other is when my mother sometimes uses it to describe something as “ugly” or “out of style,” saying it was a popular term to use in the 1980s.

Nowadays, when most of us hear the term, we think of an online dating hoax or even Notre Dame Linebacker Manti Te’o. But what can we learn from our predecessors?

It’s interesting how such a talented, young, decorated football player like Te’o got so mixed up in such an embarrassing scam. Te’o thought he had been dating a smart young girl studying at Stanford University, Lennay Kekua, and last fall he found out she had died. However, after a tip was emailed in to reporters of the sports blog, Deadspin, an investigation was launched.

Afterwards, all kinds of confusion followed. Turns out, an acquaintance of Te’o’s, Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, had been behind the whole thing, telling Dr. Phil he had fallen in love with Te’o and is “trying to recover from homosexuality.”

But where does the term even derive from? The International Business Times offers a few different explanations. One is that when live cod was being shipped from the U.S. to China, the cod would be "sluggish" by the time it arrived in China. The suppliers supposedly put catfish on the ship as enemies to the cod. As a result, the cod were jumpier and more active, making them stay fresher and tastier for consumers, meaning that the “catfish” in our life keep us on our toes and guessing. Another theory comes from when some restaurants have known to lie about their product, giving customers catfish (a very cheap fish) when they ordered something more expensive (like flounder).

Now that we know where the term may have come from, let's talk about today's version of the word catfish. There is nothing wrong with being a member of, or others like it, but it’s important to know that there are certain precautions to take if going down that dating road.

The Dateover has some ideas on how you can avoid getting scammed. Have the other person take a photo of them holding up your name or screen name on a piece of paper. Before meeting in real life, Skype online. That way you know exactly what they look like and how they are in person. A tip from Nev on the show “Catfish” is to take the person’s profile picture and copy it into Google Images. If the photo takes you to another person’s profile, you know for sure they are not who they say they are.

Stop communicating with someone if they won’t send you a picture of their face, won’t call you on the phone or wants money or personal information like your Social Security number or address. Remember, the first few times you go out to meet the person, take a friend just for support and always let someone know where you will be.

Stay safe out there, ladies!

Image courtesy of Vlado /

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