After the critically acclaimed documentary and the MTV series “Catfish” aired in 2012, the term “catfish” took on a whole new meaning. According to many entries on urbandictionary.com, “catfish” refers to a person who has created a false identity using social media. This person leads other people into believing that they are someone that they are not. Both the show and the documentary chronicle the interaction between two people who become romantically involved over the World Wide Web. The producers, Nev Schulman and Max Joseph, launch informal investigations after the suspicious party contacts them. As it turns out, these relationships can go on weeks, months and even years. Money and other gifts are often exchanged. Regular phones calls are made. Deep secrets are shared. Serious feelings develop for one or both people involved.
After a bit of Internet probing, googling, and contacting people connected to the individual, the team makes an educated guess about identity of the suspected party. More often than not, the person has completely stolen a random person’s pictures and created believable personal information. Nev, Max and the bamboozled ‘catfishee’ travel to meet the dishonest person. The person usually looks nothing like the pictures on the social media profiles and there are usually lots of tears, disbelief and even a few expletives. But here’s what’s really interesting; there are obvious trends in each instance. Nobody ever uses a webcam, FaceTime, or any other web/video conference application. Plans to meet face to face randomly fall through. They make up wild lies, i.e. “I was in a coma,” “I lost my phone and connection to internet,” and etc. All the signs are usually there, but out of comfort, fear, insecurity or embarrassment the faux-romance lingers on.
Some of us, as Mississippi citizens, and citizens of the country are being Catfish’d. As I was doing my Senior Practicum at the Mississippi Legislature last spring, it dawned on me. Every time we go to the polls we jump into these committed, poorly arranged relationships with our elected officials. They are Mississippi born but don’t always represent our interests. There are some who say they are all about better healthcare, but they don’t expand Medicaid. They say they want to improve education but they refuse to fund it according to MAEP (Mississippi Adequate Education Program). Their avi’s depict them in one way, but really they aren’t those people at all. Often times we really don’t know the people we elect. A lot of us don’t keep up with how they vote for legislation, what bills they author, or what programs they create. We vote for them, remember their names and we vote for them again. We don’t travel to the Capitol during the legislative session, tune into C-span or go to City Council meetings. We don’t visit the legislative website or visit their neighborhood offices. We don’t “FaceTime.” If we never do any of these things, how do we know our interests are being served? We don’t. We’re choosing to be misled out of fear, insecurity, comfort, poor internal and external efficacy, ignorance, embarrassment or plain old indifference.
Even when all the signs are there and problems we had 50 years ago still exist. While random shopping centers spring up with questionable money, education funds are rationed, community leaders are kicked off state boards, and our low-income food deserts are quenched with fancy grocery stores in affluent areas, we vote again. We don’t check out the campaign finance report to see who gave our candidates money, even though we know candidates usually keep their funders’ interests in mind. We just continue to hope that they are the people in their profile pictures.
Don’t let another Election Day slip pass you. Don’t let the city yard-sign contest wow you. Don’t listen to the ridiculous advertisements without doing your homework, and then doing the due diligence to hold our leaders are accountable. This is not a piece aimed at bashing our elected representatives. Lots of our leaders are great people and they are doing a great job. This is a gentle nudge to ensure a working democracy. So, even after you’ve accepted their friend request and checked out your mutual friends list, follow-up. Make sure they are the people for whom you voted. Monitor, visit, and communicate with our leaders. You don’t have to “care about politics,” but you should care about your life, your families’ lives, and how your money is being spent. That sweet-faced liberal could be bulging conservative wearing really good Spanx. Do your part, don’t be Catfish’d.