If you’ve befriended someone on social media who you think is too perfect to be real, you’re probably right.
It was five hours before my 3,000 word university essay was due and with 2,500 words left to write, I did what any good student would do, I procrastinated. Somehow I had moved from ‘evaluating qualitative methods for marketing research’ to prowling Facebook. While jumping from profile to profile, I stumbled upon the page of a remarkably good looking Australian boy. His profile picture was typical of those used by many gay men – he was in his speedos, showing off his perfect, tanned body, somewhere close to the beach. Right away I was enamoured by this beautiful specimen of a man whose sexy dark features were more South American than Australian. The further I clicked through his pictures, the deeper I fell. With thousands of followers, hundreds of picture “likes” and countless complimentary status comments , it was clear that I was not the only one who had been fascinated by this stranger.
Although on face(book) value, his profile seemed legitimate, my intuition told me that something wasn’t right. There were two observations that made me feel uneasy. Firstly, the friends featured in his pictures all seemed to be of South American appearance which was strange considering that his current location was set to the Gold Coast, an area of Australia known for its blonde haired and blue eyed residents. Secondly, in the background of one of his pictures I noticed a beach which looked very much like Copacabana in Rio.
Having been inspired by the MTV series Catfish, a show which exposes the real people behind fake online profiles, I decided to do my own investigating. I downloaded one of his profile pictures and just like in Catfish, I plugged the picture into a Google Image Search and waited. Immediately hundreds of results appeared. As you can imagine, the images I saw before me did not belong to the so-called Australian but to straight Brazilian model Marcello Alvarez. It was clear that the Facebook profile, with all of its status updates, pictures and personal details was indeed fake.
Although the individual behind the fake profile may see his actions as harmless entertainment, I feel that this type of deceit is dangerous. Not only is it dangerous for the audience who becomes fascinated by the show of someone else’s life but it’s dangerous for the real person behind the fake profile. Living vicariously through an invented persona achieves nothing in the long run. All those “likes” do not belong to you. All that attention is not directed at you. Where do you hope this will take you? How will it all end now that you’re in so deep?
If Catfish is any indication of the type of people that create these profiles, then typically they all fit a similar mould. They are social recluses from lower socio-economic backgrounds who suffer from self-esteem issues and look nothing like their imagined online personas. Add the pressures faced by young gay men and you can understand why the internet is such an appealing place. The online world gives these types of people the opportunity to live out their fantasies and escape from their real lives.
I always preach the benefits of being true to yourself, so this type of betrayal worries me greatly. However, instead of being enraged by those who abuse Facebook and other social media platforms, we should empathise with them and try understand the reasons behind their actions. Such extreme behaviour and ongoing trickery is a sign of something much deeper than the need for attention. While I do not condone lying, playing with people’s emotions or eliciting attention through false means, I understand that sometimes the world can be a harsh place from where we need to escape.
Image Credit: Model Florian Van Bael photographed by Philippe Vogelenzang