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Catfish is a slang term used to describe someone who assumes false accounts on social networking sites such as Facebook or Twitter for the sake of developing online relationships with strangers or pretending to be in a relationship.
The term catfish originated from the 2010 documentary film of the same name. Directed by Ariel Schulman and Henry Joost, Catfish follows the story of Schulman’s brother, Yaniv “Nev” Schulman, as he develops an online relationship with Megan Pierce, a girl he meets through her younger sister Abby. As the documentary progresses, it is revealed that Megan Nev is a fake identity based on a woman in rehabilitation and assumed by Megan’s mother, Angela.
The documentary was partially met by skepticism regarding the authenticity of the film, believing that the circumstances are too well put together to have taken place in real life. However, no one involved in the production has confirmed the notion.
The title of the documentary was inspired by a trade practice among Norwegian fishermen who added a single catfish into the tank of live sardines or cod in order to keep their stock physically active and fresh while in transportation. The lore is also told in the film by Vince, who compares Angela to the role of catfish that keeps others active in life. Furthermore, a method known as the Catfish Effect has been applied in human resources to motivate a team by optimizing the distribution of competition among colleagues.
On July 22nd, 2010, “catfish,” as it is used in this context, was first added to Urban Dictionary, defining it as “someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.” The usage of the term likely faded away after a few months, but grew in popularity slightly two years later with the premiere of an MTV series based on the premise of the film in November 2012.
In January 2013, the slang term saw a notable resurgence in popularity due to the highly publicized scandal surrounding Notre Dame Football Player Manti Te’o and his “catfish” girlfriend. On January 19th, Funny or Die released a parody trailer of the documentary film featuring an actor impersonating Te’o.
Please note that many uses of the hashtag #catfish are in reference to the television show.
The term “catfish” gains a large number of searches due to the fish of the same name. However, the term has had increases in search interest that parallel the release of the film and the broadcast of the television show/use of the term.