The puzzling Manti Te’o hoax unearthed by Deadspin stirred up quite the controversy earlier this week, and it wasn’t long before fans connected the news with “Catfish,” MTV’s hit show that uncovers deceiving online relationships.
With even national media outlets linking Te’o directly to “Catfish,” we figured now is as good a time as any to help explain what Catfishing means and how it became the go-to term to describe sketchy Internet trickery.
The origin of the term, which also has its own entry in the Urban Dictionary, can be traced back to the film that inspired the show. Nev Schulman, the subject of the indie documentary and host of the MTV show, fell in love with online, but when he finally went to meet her, he discovered that his would-be love was really a troubled, 40-year-old mother. Instead of running away from the situation, Nev stayed to interact with the woman and her family.
“When I finally met the 40-year-old mom, we also met her husband and he told us this amazing story,” Schulman explained. “They used to take these live cod in these giant vats on ships from Alaska to China, but by the time the fish got to China, their flesh would become mushy and tasteless, so some guy had the bright idea to put catfish in the vats with the cod to chase them around and keep them moving, and he finished by saying that he thanks God for the catfish because life would be droll, boring and dull if we didn’t have someone nipping at our fins.”
That story inspired Schulman and the “Catfish” filmmakers to name their project after those catfish, and not long after the film was released, the term appeared in the Urban Dictionary. “A Catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities,” reads the definition. “Particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.”
With the growing popularity of the MTV show, the term has become a verb for people who describe being victimized by online posers, i.e. “I was Catfished!” and the usage has increased exponentially in the wake of the Te’o hoax.
Do you think Manti Te’o was Catfished? Tell us in the comments!