How The Modern Day Documentary ‘Catfish’ Shines A New Light On Social Media Identity Theft

If I’ve learned anything from the documentary Catfish, it’s that you never really know who you’re talking to online. As scary as it sounds, it’s actually relevant in modern day life especially with the recent boom of social media that seems to foster identity theft and deceit. Do you really know if the person in the profile photo is who they say they are? This film explores that realm and discovers that the answer is no.

Websites like Facebook and Myspace are praised for bringing people together and allowing communication even though the other person is miles away. What we seem to lose sight of very quickly is that we’re sitting in front of a screen with absolutely no idea who is on the other side of the conversation. Yaniv “Nev” Schulman is a 24-year-old photographer who, after having one of his photos published in a magazine, receives a painting in the mail by an 8-year-old girl in Michigan named Abby. Retreating to his online domain (Facebook), Nev connects with Abby and soon enough develops a close relationship with not only the 8-year-old girl, but also her mother Angela and older sister Megan. As Nev’s relationship with the family begins to grow, his filmmaking brother Ariel and their friend Henry, decide to begin documenting this journey to see where it ultimately leads.

What Ariel and Henry originally intended to document was Abby’s artistic ability and every day inspiration but by the end of the film you realize it has become the perfect analysis of the modern day social networking age. At some point along the way the story shifts from Nev and Abby to Nev and Megan who begin an impersonal love affair that is a superficial common place in today’s society. They communicate via text message, online chat and phone calls, yet all Nev knows about Megan is what he’s gathered from her Facebook profile page. It seems as though he is in love with an online profile, not an actual person.

The underlying theme doesn’t evolve until later on in the film but the influence, and seemingly strong foothold of the Internet, is apparent throughout. This film is about more than an online bond, it’s about society’s shift away from human interaction into an age of artificial and hollow relationships based on unstable foundations and naivety. Essentially the vast portion of this film has us looking over Nev’s shoulders as he sends online chat messages, posts comments on Megan’s wall, and uses Google street view to discuss locations or travel destinations.

Aside from its extremely creative and unique depiction, many critics are left wondering if the film’s ending was fact or fiction. So far reviews are mixed from the general public who argue that the handheld camera style is nauseating and that the movie has no right to consider itself a “thriller”. Either way, Catfish is sure to make an impression and change the way you think next time you find yourself chatting with a stranger online.


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