Catfishing: How Do We Protect the Vulnerable
Catfishing has become a prominent phenomenon in modern online communications. The victims of catfishing often receive the blame for falling into it and are labeled as too trusting or even naive. While, in many cases, catfishing does not lead to actual harm and can be avoided by being vigilant, it is hardly an acceptable practice. We must consider that the victims of catfishing are often vulnerable people, either those not familiar with the dangers of the internet or those in a compromised mental state. Even savvy internet users can fall victim to such deceit when they suffer from depression or isolation. Thus, to protect ourselves and our communities, we should stay vigilant and place the blame where it belongs – on the perpetrators.
While people who falsify their identity on the internet deserve the blame, it is an entirely separate question of whether they should be held criminally liable. Legislations that would punish catfishing would also compromise the person’s right to stay anonymous on the internet. Furthermore, creating an online identity separate from one’s real-life identity is integral to the online culture. The act of falsifying one’s identity on the internet by itself should not be punished, as long as it does not bring any harm.
Children are one of those vulnerable groups who can easily fall victim to catfishing. Some might argue that online platforms and communities are responsible for the safety of underage users. In my opinion, while platforms should implement at least some safeguard measures, it is ultimately the parent’s job. Some parents protect their children by exercising complete control of their internet activity. Not only is it an invasion of privacy, but it is also ineffective and undermines the trust between parents and children. Under such control, a child would be more inclined to visit unsafe websites and talk to strangers. A better way would be to teach young internet users about the dangers of the online community, show them examples of catfishing, and explain how to avoid it.