Ever since Facebook was open to people above the age of 13 in 2006, people have gained the opportunity to easily establish relationships with people they have never even met. The ability to communicate back-and-forth without being face to face creates a level of comfort for each individual to express themselves more openly. However, some people take advantage of the absence of physical interaction by creating false identities to attract other Internet users. The person who creates the false identity will usually make up excuses to not use video chat or send pictures of other people claiming it is them to continue their ploy. These interactions could lead to the individuals having strong feelings for the one another, but someone is creating a false persona in order to “attract” others.
After watching the show Catfish on MTV for the first time a couple of weeks ago, I was amazed with the way people had serious online relationships for years, but have never met. The episode I watched had a man and woman who had a 10 year relationship online and did not meet one time, but exchanged pictures (the man sent pictures of someone else, the woman was honest). According to a study by Juan Marquez, online relationships are dictated by the individuals emotional stability and personality. In our society, online relationships are considered “weird.” Let’s be honest though; people who grew up with America Online Instant Message probably had one or two “friends” they met in a chat room and stayed in contact with. Although those “friends” probably told you about themselves, how were you ever one-hundred percent sure they were being truthful about who they really were?
There are a variety of communication theories that can be used to help understand the aspect of “why do people create false personalities online?”
According to Julia T. Wood, the third level of Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs, Belonging needs, “We want others’ company, acceptance, and affirmation, and we want to give acceptance and affirmation to others.” This means people want to be accepted as well as give acceptance to others. These people who create “Fakebooks” are trying to establish relationships by depicting a person they feel would be well liked while determining if the person they are communicating with fits their standards. In the case of the 10 year Facebook relationship I discussed earlier, the man sent his “partner” pictures of a model who had no resemblance to him at all.
Facebook allows users to upload a profile picture that can be seen by any other Facebook user. The profile picture puts a high emphasis on physical appearance, a type of nonverbal communication. People who create false profiles most likely suffer from low self esteem and probably do not find themselves attractive in the eyes of others. This mindset contributes to the Fakebookers use of pictures not of themselves and denial to use video chat with their online counterparts. The 10 year online relationship was between an overweight woman and an extremely obese man. Although she liked him because he could always make her laugh, he continued to lie to her about himself because of the way he looked.
When relationships are developed over Facebook, communication is key to the growth of the interactions. The fake profiles are usually created by people with introverted personalities. Wood states, “people who describe themselves as shy and tense when interacting with people they don’t know were more likely to join computer matchmaking services.” This means these introverted people have difficulty in physical social interactions. Facebook provides them with a way to be able to communicate with others, but from the safety and comfort of their computer. The man in the online relationship kept to himself and remained secluded. However, Facebook granted him with the comfort of not having to physically interact with the woman. Although he had social skills, he was intimidated by women so being “behind” the computer screen gave him a barrier of comfort.
Another concept that can apply to the use of Fakebooks is the exit response to conflict. No one enjoys conflict and the introverted, low self esteem users probably have a difficult time handling conflict when it arises. The exit response is physically or psychologically removing oneself from conflict. When using Facebook as a means of communication, it is very simple for a person to respond to conflict in this manner. All they would have to do is go to another webpage or simply block the other person from their profile. By having the power to control interactions with the click of a mouse can make it more enticing for individuals to establish relationships online rather than face to face. This type of response to conflict can lead to lose-lose or win-lose orientations of conflict. A lose-lose is when everyone involved in the conflict loses and a win- lose is when only one person gains and at the expense of the other. Multiple times during the Fakebooker’s online relationship, the woman asked him to video chat and Skype. Every time the man declined and ended the Facebook interaction shortly after. The conflict was the woman wanting to video chat and him not wanting to. He was able to respond to the conflict by exiting the conversations by simply giving an excuse and ending the interaction.
After researching more about why people create fake online profiles I found a lot of interesting conclusions. Most of the people who Fakebook have low self esteem and a terrible self concept. They feel so low about themselves they revert to creating an entirely different personality online. By portraying themselves as someone they believe will attract others gives them social satisfaction. Although these people are essentially lying about who they are, they are not doing it to be conniving or evil. They simply want to be accepted by someone while accepting them at the same time. Everyone wants to have that one person they can talk to no matter what. Unfortunately, some people take it too far by completely lying to someone just so they like them.
The MTV episode of Catfish with the two people who had a 10 year relationship ended with them finally meeting each other. It was exciting to see how each person would react. The woman was heartbroken to know she was lied to for all those years and the man was extremely apologetic. After the initial shock of the 10 years of lie the two of them sat down and discussed what happened. The man described his life since he’s met her and explained why he had done it. Eventually, the woman accepted his apology and gave him a hug. I thought it was interesting to note that even though they claimed to be in love and finally met after 1o years, she did not even give him a kiss on the cheek. I believe that she was too distraught to really give him any sort of closure. He then returned to his home town and the two still remain in touch.
When Facebooking or using any other sort of nonverbal communication be wary of who you meet. They might not necessarily be who they say they are. Remember that keeping any relationship healthy, whether online or not, requires commitment and trust.