The phenomenon of internet predators that fabricate online identities and entire social circles to trick people into emotional/romantic relationships (over a long period of time).
Possible motivations: revenge, loneliness, curiosity, boredom
The term catfishing was inspired by the 2010 documentary “Catfish.”
Gwen was worried that her online boyfriend was a phoney after she saw a TV program about Catfishing.
If you have read the article “11 Ways to Make Money Online,” you may have noticed that I mentioned catfishing as one of the ways of working online. It may not be an illustrious part of my freelance career, but it was writing-related catfishing that really opened up my worldview and exposed just what some people want to outsource. Can we really live automated, outsourced lives for a fair-market price?
The answer to this and other question shall be answered in this trip down Freelance Memory Lane…
In the Beginning
Back in the days of Elance.com, when I didn’t know any better, I went looking for writing-based work. Perhaps it was beginners’ luck, but I managed to find the strangest work through that site. One week, I’d be working as a copyeditor for a GMAT-preparation course written by Ukrainians, the next I’d be transcribing articles for an English guy’s thesis. It was a mixed bag, but the pay was better than most desk jobs I worked. If it looked interesting, I’d submit a proposal and hope to hear back from the client.
One gig was for something completely different. The post read something to the effect of:
“Looking for 10 posts a day on dating websites”
The description was fairly laconic, but it piqued my curiosity. What did I have to lose? After all, even if it turns out to be a disaster, I could still write about it. Hence, why I’m writing about this…
Nevertheless, the client approved my proposal, which consisted of my previously-published clippings and message that confirmed my expertise in securing a mate through digital means; after all, I had a girlfriend at the time. That was the guy’s goal, right?
Well, not exactly.
It was hard to find out what the person wanted from this endeavor, but I appreciated the work. For a low $15/hr, I began canvassing sites like Zoosk, OkCupid, and Plenty of Fish for women that would be interested in this guy.
His original profile was painfully bad, with lame jokes about why men can’t have birth control pills. He was striking out before he even began.
So I went to work…
He didn’t have a type of woman that he explicitly desired, so anyone from 18 to 40 was fair game. I sent them carefully constructed messages that mimicked their profile. If the profile was long, I created an equally lengthy message. It was amazing how just doing this mirroring could elicit a message from a lovely lady. I took this to note in the future when dealing with my own clients .
The catch of the project was, however, that my client would take over after the first message. I was to send no follow-ups, as he was simply narrowing the field of applicants. It was kind of sad to watch each opportunity fail—the poor guy was terrible and desperate just from the get-go. Within the first few paragraphs of his reply, he’d ask if the girls were into smoking cannabis and bikram yoga and what was their favorite salsa moves. Too much too soon.
I continued on in this fashion, with some women being actively interested, only to find out that they had ulterior motives: one girl wanted money, another was missing her lower jaw. It was simultaneously sad and interesting.
I became so prolific, I began sending out 300 messages a week, working 15 hours for a job that I found absolutely fascinating. I felt like I was doing God’s work. Surely, by the law of averages, he could find someone. Each PayPal payment per week was confirmation that I was doing a good job, but that perhaps overscholastic achievement could blind someone to the flaws in their personality.
His photos were eventually professionally taken. There was my client, posing like he was at a wedding. There was the semi-casual photo, which made the entire encounter a little uncomfortable. Was he really this desperate? There were many conflicted opinions I had while working on this job. What were the ethical ramifications of this—was he aware of them? Was he somehow getting off on the idea that even his dating life mimicked his career in finance? Strangely enough, the gold diggers weren’t interested in him at all, despite his “Income” column reading “$100,000+/year”. It felt trashy.
Instead of trying to entice unsuspecting women through clandestine methods, I was able to read through the lines of the text for each user’s profile. It gave me a sense of taking in an overview of someone’s online persona and what they were really interested in. In effect, I was able to study a person’s branding. What kind of target market were these people looking for?
I could piece together someone’s socio-economic status from their pictures. Lo and behold, that same self-made woman was interested in traveling, yoga, and eating good food. The cosplay-loving girl was into working retail and Second Life. Think about it; knowing two correlated topics can open up your possibilities to niche markets to blog for, consumer trends, and just which direction the hive mind was heading. This was valuable info.
It was a bit of an emotional investment tied up with the entire project as I was dictating the life of my client. I spent some time reflecting recently, and I found a pattern: every project I was involved with was colored by the personality of my clients. Their up’s became parallel to my life. In the future, I’d be careful to cultivate clients that have a good energy about them, not the unreasonable ones out there. Life is short, after all.
The First Time I Ever ‘Met’ Your Mother
Of course, there’s a very humorous angle to all this, and at $15/ hour, I’m not one to complain for the fringe benefits of laughing from time to time. I’m not sure what was funnier: the fact I was able to coerce people into responding or my client’s responses, which quickly veered into desperation for human contact at any means. I think the worst part of this was that he probably missed out on the initial contact—think about it: would you ever reveal to a person you had married or engaged in a long-term relationship with that the first message was never sent by you?
And that’s why I he believed was doomed to fail from the beginning
Brave New World?
Could this be a sign of things to come for freelance writers? Would working on interesting projects like this revitalize your interest in writing? I know for me, it certainly improved my writing to the extent that I’m ½ way through a short story with a fictionalized account. That’s certainly a fringe benefit that’s missing from ordinary assignments.
One question still lingers, though: if it seems like my client just needed a physical encounter, why didn’t he just get a prostitute? I believe he was really was looking for companionship, but his work got in the way. Money wasn’t everything…