Catfishing in the Ivory Tower

When demographic categories become a professional credential, careerists will fudge their resumes

Katrina Gulliver
Arc Digital


Jessica Krug, a history professor who falsely claimed to be black, in a since-removed profile photo from George Washington University.

You probably know the old joke: on the internet nobody knows you’re a dog. One of the features of the internet, ever since the beginning of chat rooms, was the ability to pose as anyone you’d like.

Out in the real world, to pretend to be something you’re not typically requires at least some kind of costume. But a series of academic fakes show how the online and the real worlds have overlapped in creating new identities.

First, an anthropologist died of COVID-19. She taught at Arizona State University. She was a minority scholar (Hopi), and queer. The other scientists who mourned her death had come to know her — with the handle @sciencing_bi — through discussions of #MeTooSTEM on Twitter (focusing on sexual harassment in the sciences).

She had built up friendships through the network of scientists online. She kept her followers updated on how she suffered with coronavirus, having been exposed to it when she was made to teach in person during the pandemic. Her narrative hit all the right notes for the current mood: contingent academic employment, the pandemic, and the challenges of women in male-dominated fields.