At best, the process of looking for love online can be daunting and frightening. At worst, it can be deceptive, messy, and utterly humiliating. The Catfish franchise, including a 2010 documentary and a subsequent MTV reality series, exists to showcase all of that deception, messiness, and utter humiliation. For the happily uninitiated, a “catfish” is someone who deliberately misleads another person into an online romantic relationship by using false information and/or an invented persona. The word can also be used as a verb, i.e., “to catfish someone.” Hosts Max Joseph and Nev Schulman, the latter a catfishing victim himself, have been documenting these sad cases for more than half a decade now. On the eve of the series’ fifth season premiere, Fusion’s Molly Fitzpatrick has made a study of the first four seasons of Catfish: The TV Show and has turned her findings into some disheartening but compelling statistics. It is important to note that these numbers refer only to the catfish and victims depicted on the show. The numbers may break down differently in real life.
The majority of catfish (64%) are female, Fitzpatrick finds, as are most victims (53%). The most common transgressions among catfish are using false names (69%) and passing off photos of others as themselves (73%). It is less common to lie about one’s gender (24%) or occupation (25%). It may be of interest, however, that more women than men (by a two-to-one ratio) misrepresent their gender in these situations. In 11% of the episodes Fitzpatrick reviewed for the article, the catfishing was mutual to some degree. Fortunately or unfortunately, only one catfish has had the nerve to impersonate his own victim, but two bold individuals lied to MTV producers about being catfished in order to score free plane tickets. So Catfish itself has been catfished at least twice.
[Note: Fusion, like The A.V. Club, is owned by Univision Communications.]