Do We Have To Become Catfish Online To Be Heard?

Are we all Catfish in this online swamp? Or do we need to be to get others to hear us above all the er… splashing going on around us?

There’s a profile Les follows on social media, they like the stuff @fishywisdom posts — sometimes funny, other times profound.

Les sits and nods along when scrolling through their feed often while they’re sat on the loo. Sometimes they boost @fishywisdom’s posts and add a couple of comments of their own. @fishywisdom’s profile picture isn’t very clear, but Les reckons that the person running it is the same sort of person as they are.

One day, disaster strikes and the rug is pulled out from under Les.

It turns out that @fishywisdom isn’t the same as Les after all, in fact, they couldn’t be more different. And instead of finding the magical Oz behind the screen, Les finds a fish flapping about and smacking the keyboard with its fins.

Les realises they’ve been duped. Catfished.

Catfish: Someone pretending to be someone they are not on the internet.

That’s a broad definition anyway.

But, based on that definition, aren’t many of us Catfish online? The screen acts as a barrier separating perception and reality, so we present snippets of life and a version of ourselves.

“Don’t compare yourself to the show-reel that other people present online”

That’s the advice I’ve seen floating about. It seems pretty accurate (apart from on Twitter where the show-reel is one with a big burn mark where it’s been set on fire).

We like people to like us and to present ourselves in a way that’s generally positive and in keeping with our beliefs and values. If ever we find ourselves doing something that doesn’t match with how we see ourselves, this creates a nasty feeling in your gut: that feeling is called cognitive dissonance.

So it makes sense that we present a version of ourselves that’s a little bit filtered and slightly altered.

According to social Psychologist Robert Cialdini’s principles of persuasion, there are six ways we are influenced and can influence others: Liking, social proof, reciprocity, scarcity, consistency/commitment, and authority.

Liking

People who are liked have more influence. We’re more likely to listen to other people that we like than someone we don’t know or don’t like.

Authority

We trust those who seem to know what they’re on about. That’s why those people with a big blue ‘verified’ tick can be so influential. Plus, those 9/10 dentists that you’ve heard so much about.

Scarcity

This is the idea that something limited/more exclusive is likely to generate more demand than something freely available by anyone.

Social proof

If other people are doing in, then maybe I should too. I’m driving and begin to notice that everyone in front of me is moving into the right-hand lane, so what do I do? Probably peer about a bit and then decide that I should probably shift lanes too.

Reciprocity

You know when you nod at someone and they feel compelled to nod back? That’s the idea of reciprocity, we feel like we ought to give back what’s given to us. Hey, I’ve given you a free pen, now would you like to sign my petition?

Consistency/commitment

We all have a set of core values and beliefs and we want to act in a way that matches with these, and when we don’t it makes us feel uncomfortable.

Social proof and liking both mean that we’re likely to be influenced by people we like and who are backed by other people that we also like.

This is why in political campaigns you end up with lots of celebrities advocating certain parties, it’s also why celebrities are used to sell us stuff on adverts.

We also respond best and are influenced most by people that we think are similar to ourselves. People we think that we can relate to best.

The online world creates a weird detachment and consequence-free playpen. Part of the freedom it gives seems to be due to the psychological distance between you behind the screen and the others inside of it. — They’re likely to be physically far away and you’ll probably never meet them, which makes them almost unreal; hypothetical people.

Without the Catfish disguise, Les would likely not have considered @wisefish’s posts. Behind the screen, @wisefish’s real name is Ali and they’re younger, with a very different background to Les. Without the ambiguity of Ali’s Catfish costume, their posts would be rejected flat-out at face value, without even considering what they’re trying to say.

So, are ambiguity and a dose of deception the only way to get people that don’t relate to us to hear what we have to say?

We shouldn’t have to

Of course, of course, we shouldn’t have to disguise our identity just to be heard. Female authors shouldn’t have to still use false names and initials to hide their gender so that they still get sales.

But what if it’s the only way?

Reducing prejudice

One of the best ways supported to break down stereotypes and prejudice is to come face to face and speak to someone we have preconceptions about. This widens our understanding, reduces anxiety and increases empathy.

One of the biggest barriers to get through is the first impression. If I don’t relate to you, then I’m not listening. The Catfish disguise might be a way to slip in under the radar and be heard in this noisy, often toxic, swamp.

Reducing cognitive dissonance

After the initial shock of @fishywisdom turning out to be a different person to the one Les thought they were, there are two ways Les’s thinking might go:

Reject anything and everything Ali said, sinking back on their heels and trying to forget the whole thing ever occurred.

Recognise the niggling feeling that some of the stuff @fishywisdom said was actually pretty valid. In a slow drip-drip kind of way, their attitudes change.

That’s the thing about cognitive dissonance, when faced with new information that doesn’t fit with your worldview, you either sink even further into your hole or assimilate to fit in new information.

Just to be clear, I’m not advocating deceiving people and creating a persona online, I just wonder if a little ambiguity might be the only way to be heard by people who otherwise would have their fingers firmly in their ears.

Perhaps to make a splash; first, we must grow fins.


You can find more social psychology related writings over on dog-eared-pages.co.uk