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Catfish Tales: About the Time a Woman Who Didn't Actually Exist Became a Contributor to Pajiba

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | August 6, 2012 |

By Dustin Rowles | Think Pieces | August 6, 2012 |

True story, and I don’t know if I’ve shared this one explicitly or not, but I know I hinted at it in the past: Around the time that the documentary Catfish — about a guy who tracks down a potential love interest from Facebook only to find out she’d created a fake personae to pursue him — came out, we had our own Catfish experience here at Pajiba. There was a woman who had contributed on several occasions to the site, and who was a very large part of the Pajiba Facebook community. She was very sweet, very clever, and as it turns out, very, very fake.

I never saw it coming, nor did most of the people in the Pajiban Facebook community. She had exchanged emails with many of us, confided us, and shared intimate details of her life. Likewise, many of us had confided details about our own lives to her. She even had telephone relationships with some of the others in the community and had become what might be considered in the Internet age close friends with many of us.

Her undoing, however, was the fact that bad things always seemed to happen to her. She divulged a cancer diagnosis to some of us individually (asking us not to tell), she seemed to frequently come down with a strange list of maladies, and extraordinarily dramatic things tended to happen to her on a weekly basis These events and these illnesses and conditions elicited our sympathies, and only after a great deal of time had passed did I even begin to suspect a kind of hypochondria, that she thrived on the attention. That this person didn’t actually exist in the real world never even occurred to me.

How was she caught? It was kind of an amazing story, really. She landed a boyfriend (who we thought was totally real! We saw his Facebook page and everything!). However, weeks after she met him, this woman got in a serious accident that left her in a coma, news we got second hand via texts from the boyfriend. Another Facebook Pajiban (I’ll not disclose any names in case they’d rather not be revealed, although they might share more details with you in the comments) began to get suspicious, and did some deep investigating. Ultimately, what he discovered after going as far as speaking to her actual father (who was clueless as to the alleged accident) was that the woman who was writing for us was actually an older woman who lived alone with her mother. She had created an elaborate online identity, along with a fake Facebook page for her boyfriend, for the purposes of being someone else specifically for this particular community of people. She pulled it off for well over a year.

After we discovered this, I tried, unsuccessfully, to lure her out with a comment diversion. After that failed, some in the Facebook community called her on her lies, and she continued to spin them even as it had become apparent that the jig was up. Eventually, she was backed so far into a corner of her own fabrications that she had no choice but to abandon her fake identity. She stopped posting on Facebook and Twitter, and so far as I know, no one ever heard from her again.

What would drive a person to do this? I suppose a desire to belong, to be someone else more appealing than she believed herself to be. The reality is, however, that she was funny and clever all on her own (that can’t be faked), and I doubt anyone — at least among the Pajiban community — would’ve cared about the details of her actual life. She even used her real name (a common enough name that would’ve been difficult to isolate), which suggested there was as much truth to her fake identity as there were lies.

All of which is to say, I don’t know if the documentary Catfish is real — or, as many have suggested — a total hoax. Regardless, people like the woman at the center of that documentary do exist. They’re all over the world. You may not even know it, but you may be close Facebook friends with a completely made-up person.

The point? Because of this experience, I was more drawn that I might otherwise be to the news of MTV’s 12-part series inspired on the documentary. Catfish the TV series — set to debut this fall — is a show that visits couples who fell in love over the Internet only to discover the real-life person isn’t who he or she had been led to believe. I’m mostly curious about the motivations, the lengths these people go in order to keep the ruse going, the ultimate outcomes, and what the real people behind the fake identities are like. I know MTV is not typically the best platform for thought-provoking television, but if the network can bring the same level of thought to Catfish as they do to the Real Life series, it could be a compelling and insightful television series.

(It also might be worth noting that this bizarre tale was actually one-upped in the Pajiba Community around the same time when a woman in divorce proceedings with her husband — one of my all-time favorite commenters — used his email address and Facebook account to attempt to convince me to delete all of his comments and persuade me to divulge the details of an extramarital affair he — to my knowledge — was not having. Eventually, it got so confusing that I had no idea if I was exchanging emails with the commenter or his wife pretending to be him, so I quit responding to both of them. Sorry, dude.)

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Dustin is the founder and co-owner of Pajiba. You may email him here, follow him on Twitter, or listen to his weekly TV podcast, Podjiba.