A couple of years ago I received a very weird Facebook inbox message from a random guy, who was not on my friends list, asking me for my email address. Now even though I was very much young and unmarried back then, I wasn't keen on giving my email address to a stranger. But this bloke was persistent, saying that he had something VERY important to tell me. After much back and forthing, curiosity won, and I finally gave him my deets. What he sent to me shocked me!
He began his story right at the beginning, explaining that he was from Kwazulu Natal. He shared that he had broken up with the love of his life a few years before and it left him so heartbroken and devastated. (And I'm wondering what all of this has to do with me!)
Screenshot of Mxit
He explained that he was in need of company and a shoulder to cry on, so he logged onto the Mxit app on his cellphone and joined a chat group. For those who dont know: Mxit was the cellphone chatting platform of choice back then. It is different to Whatsapp in that you would need to"log in" via your cellphone number and a password each time you want to chat. You also had to add people to your chat list, by sending an invite to their cellphone numbers, which they had to accept.
Anyways, so the super long email that he sent me, he explained that he had then logged onto Mxit to find solace. He met a young lady in the chat group and they immediately hit it off. He said that it was like love at first chat. She counselled him through his break up and was really there for him. They began to chat every single day and night and eventually had an online relationship. To my knowledge they would call each other and even shared "I love yous". He said that they sent each other countless photos and he felt like he knew her.
He explained to me, in detail, that he knew every freckle on her face, he knew the way her head tilted when she smiled, he had memorised the lines of her cheekbones, he knew her favorite clothes - Keeping in mind that they had never met before. He said that they would pray for each other every night... he would look at her pics and say a prayer, before tenderly kissing it good night. This guy was smitten. (The story was getting interesting but I was still not sure how it affected me...)
One of the many pics!
One day she was having a problem with her Mxit and asked him to log onto it from his side, so that he could fix whatever error there was. He did so, logging on via her password. As soon as he was online, various people starting chatting to him, thinking that he is she. BUT they were not calling "her" by her name. In fact, they called her something totally different. And then, as he began to dig, he discovered that she had been lying about her name this whole time! For years he had called her by a name that did not belong to her! He felt betrayed and confronted her. She admitted to lying to him and asked him not to be mad.
His email to me went on to explain that he had done some further investigating and went onto Facebook, searching for her under her real name - the name given to him by her Mxit chat friends. The Facebook profile that popped up had all the info she shared with him - the city she lived in, her age etc. BUT. The profile pic was NOT the same girl that he had been chatting with on Mxit. In fact, none of her photos matched "his" girl. He freaked out. He began to look through her Facebook friends list and finally spotted "her" face. And "her face" belonged to another name. Her face belonged to me.
Found on muslima.com!
He immediately connected the dots and realized that his girl had been sending him MY photos for years! He felt cheated and betrayed. I dont blame the oke. He decided to make contact with me to let me know that someone had been stealing my pics and passing it off as their own. He was extremely emotional about it, saying that he feels like he has been living a lie, because he was so inlove with this girl... with her photos... and it was one big charade.
As if that wasnt enough to generate a large freak out session, I received another message on Facebook from a muslim guy that I knew through friends of friends of friends. He asked me why I was posting my pics on other websites under a different name and don't I think that I'm being kinda fake? I was like, "huh?" Literally.
Turns out my Catfisher had created a profile on muslim dating website, Muslima, using my photos to lure possible future husbands! Always a fun time. I went to check it out and yep, there I was - my smiley face, my details (from PE, 20something etc), but that was not my name! I had since logged a report with the site and I see that the profile has been removed.
Even though I was quite young and very self involved, this still made me so fearful and spurred on a lot of questions with regards to sharing my photos via social media. At that point I was the self proclaimed selfie queen, as I've said in a previous post. (Yes I had issues). I mean, I was into selfies before they had a name for it. I was 22 and had tons of pics on my Facebook and Myspace profiles. I then went on a cleaning spree and deleted quite a few of them. I also unfriended hundreds of Facebook friends as well (I had started a collection - bored like that). My process was: If it's your birthday today, and I don't know you, then I will unfriend. Happy Birthday.
The Catfish was a HUGE wake up call with regards to identity safety. And to be honest, even though all of this happened when Facebook was less secure, identity safety is still not promised on any social medium. How conscious are we about what we put up there for the world to see and help themselves to? Something to think about!