What would make you so angry that you would threaten someone you’ve never met face to face?
When Colin* found out that he had been lied to online, that’s exactly what he wanted to do. He was a victim of catfishing.
A relatively new phenomenon, catfishing is a problem associated with our social media obsession. According to Colin it is where “you meet someone online and develop a sort of relationship with them, and it turns out that they’re using a false identity. They’re someone different than who they say they are.”
The idea was documented in a film by American producer Nev Schulman based on his own experiences. It was later made into a TV documentary, detailing the stories of people who had contacted Nev to tell their own story. Colin decided to tell us his, the first time he has properly talked about the experience since it happened.
“It happened to me back in February of this year. I’m gay, and I hadn’t really come out to many people. There’s a chat site online for gay people in Ireland, and I went on to have a look at it. A lot of people on it were creepy old men, and then this guy from just down the road in Phibsborough wrote to me.
“He was 19, he was close to me, and it seemed like the perfect relationship. He told me about himself; he was originally from England, a place called St Alban’s. He had a wealthy background, he went to Belvedere. He wasn’t in college. He told me about his family. He was interested in me. It was something rare for me, it was very rare, but we started talking, and he gave me his address and stuff like that.”
The relationship blossomed from there, and it didn’t take long before Colin was hooked. “For a month and a half we talked every day, and I mean every single day. We told each other everything, I told this guy things I never told other people about myself, one day we were talking for hours and hours and I told him my darkest secrets.”
The infatuation grew, with Colin admitting he would often choose to stay in and talk with Stephen* online rather than go out with his friends. “We would stay up until four o clock in the morning most nights, and we’d just tell each other everything.”
It’s rare that people who are being catfished get to Skype the person they’re interested in, but Colin is one of the lucky few. “One night we were video chatting on Skype, and after thirty seconds he said he had to go, because someone was at the door.”
When he looks back on it now, Colin doesn’t recall hearing a doorbell or a knock on the door, which he says should have been some indication. “I didn’t even think about it back then, though, I just shrugged it off.”
Soon, though, the idea that all was not as it seemed entered his mind. “He sent me some pictures of himself and he was stunning. I mean he was really good looking, he had a six pack and really good hair. I started thinking that this can’t happen to me. I told a few of my friends and they all said to be careful because this could be anyone.” Colin knew he had to meet this person, and they had to meet soon. He knew had to find the truth somehow.
Tracking someone down online has never been easier. “I google searched one of his pictures and it came up as a semi-famous man in Birmingham with around 17,000 followers on Facebook. I confronted him about it and he just said everything was true apart from the pictures. I made him video call me holding up a sheet with my name on it, so that I would know for sure it was him.”
Colin becomes increasingly angry when recalling the moment he found out who was really behind the messages. “He said he was very self-conscious, and that was why he did it. And the thing is, he didn’t look that. But I didn’t care about that. He’d lied to me, and it just made me so angry. I felt like punching someone, I was so angry. It just put me in such a bad mood. I still get so angry with myself just thinking about it.”
In fact, that bad mood almost completely changed Colin’s life. “I was in a bad way for a long time. I didn’t go out. I didn’t talk to my roommates at all, and they’re some of my best friends. I’ve known one of them for my whole life. I even considered dropping out of college. It was such an awful time. I was in a really bad place.”
Colin hasn’t been in contact with Stephen since the truth was revealed. “I told him that if I ever saw him on the street, I’d put him in hospital. I’ve never been in a fight in my life, but if I saw him I don’t know what I’d do.”
He also hasn’t visited the site since, despite the temptation to go back sometimes arising. It has also impacted how he deals with relationships since being catfished. “I just don’t trust anyone anymore. Or I over-analyse things.”
One of the biggest effects of it was making Colin more wary about the information he shares about himself online. “Sometimes I just have to remember what people can be like. My judgement was clouded. Severely clouded. I feel like I’ve lost a little bit of faith in people since it happened. I was just so young back then, and I trusted people too easily. I think I’ve matured since, thankfully.”
If talking to someone online and having doubts about who they say they are, Colin urged people to be careful. “And Skype them, even if you don’t talk like we did. Just know that they’re telling the truth. Just make sure you know.”
*names have been changed to protect identity