When you get into the world of social media, whether on Facebook, Twitter, MySpace or an online dating site, you have to trust that the people you communicate with are honest, or at least as honest as the people you interact with offline in your “real” life. Otherwise there just doesn’t seem to be any point in doing it. Why waste your time communicating with people you don’t trust or believe? But, as in the rest of life, keeping your wits about you and treating the unreal or unbelievable with a healthy dose of skepticism is a good plan.
I watched a fascinating documentary/film tonight called Catfish. It created a bit of a sensation at the Sundance Film Festival last September and since then online speculation has been rife debating whether it’s a “real”documentary, a faked documentary – so really just another “Paranormal Activity/Blair Witch Project” film – or a cleverly reconstructed combination of both.
Watch the trailer from I Am Rogue for Catfish here. It follows the story of Nev, a photographer from New York, who receives a painting of one of his photographs from an 8 year old prodigy, Abby. Nev and Abby become Facebook friends and Nev’s brother, a film maker, starts documenting the friendship. Through Abby’s Facebook page, Nev also becomes friends with Abby’s brother, her mother Angela and her half-sister, Meghan. This leads to an intense online relationship between Nev and Meghan. They chat on FB, they text each other and eventually they speak by phone. It’s not a stretch or a spoiler (in fact it wouldn’t be much of a movie plot without) to reveal that Nev eventually goes to visit Meghan and her family, and all is not as it seems.
What is really interesting is the complexity of the online deception and the time and effort that went into creating it. That and Nev’s reaction to it. Nothing is quite as it seems. And that holds true of the entire “documentary” or “mockumentary” as the case may be. Whether it is real or fake is almost as interesting a question as the “reveal” in the movie. And it generated a lot of online speculation, some of it very detailed in an effort to debunk the filmmakers claim that it’s all “real”. It’s a great piece of viral marketing, either way.
It’s a fascinating and uplifting film. Nev’s kindness is what resonated most with me, rather than the deception story itself. And it’s yet another cautionary tale about how we conduct our lives online. But you know, even face to face, people who want to deceive you will try; it might seem easier to lie online, but it’s certainly not limited to that milieu. We just need to pick our online friends as carefully as we pick any of our other friends. Oh, and don’t believe everything you read!!
Watch the movie, it’s good, and it’s showing for free on Movie Central right now.