Watching the documentary ‘Catfish’ brought a lot of thoughts swirling through my mind. We’ve all heard how dangerous the internet can be or how misleading a social media profile can be, and the first thing that I think upon hearing warnings such as these is, “creepy”. But I realized, there’s a whole set of different layers that delve much deeper than the quick cast-off summary of creepy. In the documentary, you see a story unravel about a women who mislead a young photographer, and yes, it is creepy. But it’s also sad, depressing, strange, and dare I say – somewhat understandable. Angela, a forty-something women disguises herself as a younger, more beautiful version of herself under the guise of a falsified Facebook profile. You see the every day stresses that she lives with; two handicapped children, a marriage that isn’t very fulfilling, and life in a small country town that isn’t very glamorous. Angela wants so much out of life – to paint and sell her art, to dance once again, to be someone other than herself – and she used Facebook as a way to escape and create the life she felt she was missing out on.
By no means do I think her scheme was acceptable or rational. But it’s understandable. Every once in a while we all want to escape into a fantasy life. For me, it would mean jet-setting around the world with no responsibility other than to see all the amazing things there are to see. If I think about it, to a certain extent I do live this fantasy out online albeit in a less deceptive fashion than Angela; I pin pictures of foreign landscapes, google information about trips I probably won’t be able to take anytime soon, and explore the pictures my friends’ travels.
I think what made me think the most wasn’t Angela’s entire scheme, but instead the realization of how easily someone can access, steal, and manipulate information from one’s social media profile. I currently have (and have had for a while) relatively strict privacy settings on my Facebook; it’s the platform that I have the most personal information on and I see it as a means by which to communicate and connect with people I already know – I don’t need or particularly want strangers scoping out what I did last weekend or where I’m going to be tomorrow. Yet it surprises me how many individuals have loose privacy settings, or what’s worse, how many individuals don’t even know how to change their privacy settings. Social media culture has given individuals a sense of security and infallibility. Growing up we all heard “Don’t talk to strangers”, yet somehow it now seems harmless to interact with strangers on the internet. Where’s the sense in that? I don’t believe people should be paranoid on the internet, but I think we all need to become smarter about what we’re posting and who can see it. So by all means post pictures of your awesome trip for your friends and family to see, but make sure your profile is more restricted to those people whom you don’t know!