The media has been in a frenzy for the past few days after learning that star Notre Dame Football player Manti Te’o was the victim of an elaborate hoax; Te’o believed he was dating a girl named Lennay Kekua, but in reality, he was ‘dating’ a completely fabricated girl dreamed up by a group of Internet pranksters. How was this possible? He had never met Kekua, instead, only seeing pictures and communicating with her online. While the scenario seems improbable, with many questioning how he fell for the hoax, the reality is that many online ‘relationships’ end the same way, with one partner lying about their identity. The phenomenon was largely exposed by the 2010 documentary Catfish, which follows photographer Nev Schulman as he discovers that his online 20-something girlfriend has been dreamed up by a desperate housewife in her forties.
Unlike real life, the Internet provides users with a cloak of anonymity, allowing anyone to completely reinvent themselves. But as Manti Te’o's story highlights, it isn’t without ethical and moral ramifications. And now a new site is making it even easier for anyone to become a Catfish, generating fake companions on Facebook for lonely guys. Brazilian site NamoroFake.com, which currently is for males only, lets men choose between a variety of fake companions on the social network, including profiles for a signifier, ex-girlfriend, girlfriend, or virtual girlfriend:
For just $39, NamoroFake will generate a girlfriend, complete with backstory. The site will include 30 days worth of comments and relationship statuses to make the girlfriend look realistic–the lonely guy will also have a picture to show his friends, as NamoroFake hires ‘presentable‘ girls to pose as the online girlfriend.
The site is getting positive reviews from men of the Internet- with some commenting that it boosted their morale or helped them get back at their ex. One user said (translated from Portuguese):
I just got out of a relationship:” Ahhhh ….not hurt, came up with a girlfriend in another city on my facebook and my ex wanted to know who it was and how long she was with [me]. Hahahahahaha if she knew not what she actually saw. Now I’ll try to get a real girlfriend. Thanks … ”
Great for lonely guys, but at what cost? When real, not fake, feelings are involved, the ethics of ‘Catfishing’- especially overtly promoting it like NamoroFake- need to be taken into account.