The Catfish Chronicles -A look into the modern day identity through the lens of social media

If there is anyone in the world who can encompass such an issue as the term “Catfish” who better than South Park! 

Wendy to Butters –

“I want you to see just how easy this is, so we can better understand each other.”

“This is Lisa Berger’s class photo, right?”

Lisa Berger – Before

“Now first thing we do is just photoshop the bulges on her sides. We select the eyes, make them a nicer shape. Take off any blemishes on the skin. Lengthen the neck. Add more to the hair. Select the lips. Make them fuller. Take out any puffiness on the skin here. Add fullness to the breasts, length of the torso. Take away that fold of skin, streamline the shoulders. Put highlights in the eyes. And there.”

Lisa Berger – After

Butters – “That’s Lisa Berger?!”
Wendy – “Do you see what I’m talking about?”
Butters – “She’s pretty!”


This clip illustrates the ‘post-truth era’ of media in which the term ‘Catfish’ has become a common term used to describe someone who’s perfect self-image portrayed on social media is different to the realities of their everyday lives.

Has the era of truth fully disembarked? Is our social media image now more important to us than our reality? Have they intertwined to become an extension of the way we see ourselves and in turn become our reality? One thing is for sure, media literacy and the ability to discern information is more important now,  as it has ever been.

The story of the ‘Facebook You’ vs the ‘Real You’

Philosopher’s for years have pondered the question of what identity is and the concept of who we are as people (Ellis, 2010). These pondering’s can now be observed under a microscope as everyday you watch people trying to find themselves and their identities through social media (Ellis, 2010). Now before we delve any deeper it is only right that we first define what the word ‘catfish’ means in internet colloquialism and then explore just how far identity within social media has come by exploring sub-groups of the ‘catfish’ moniker and various other internet jargons surrounding this term.

The term ‘catfish’ according to many an internet blogger stems from the 2010 documentary of the same name, which focused on a man who had fallen in love over the internet only to find out it wasn’t a man at all (Schmitz, 2013). Now this is what we would call the most extreme form of ‘catfish’. This doesn’t happen often and discernment amongst youth has certainly become more prominent since the worldwide notoriety of such practices, as ‘catfish’ is now a popular MTV show (Lovelock, 2016).

(Warning: The following content may not be suitable for younger family members, we advise discretion).

Clip –

A prominent use of the word currently within the youth demographic is surrounding what is known as filters (see below image)


On the left hand side you see the original image. On the right hand side you see the image has been filtered to mask blemishes and enhance the contrast of the photo to give it a smoother texture. Cox (2016) an aspiring blogger states plain and simply “If you use filters then you are a catfish”. Now the question between the ‘real you’ and the ‘Facebook you’ now become prominent. I myself will admit to being an adherent user of social media. Do I filter some photos? Of course I do. Do I take more than one photo and choose the best possible picture to present to the world? Absolutely. Societal pressures and the media stigma around the ideal and prototypical body type and look, even people who have the mightiest of egos adhere to the social norm (Rosenberg and Egbert, 2011). Ellis (2010) a philosopher who focused upon identity in social media found herself also pondering her own self-identity when researching our online identities. A common complement within the Social Media generation is “wow you talk the way you type in real life”.

This is indeed important, as of 2015 according to Smith and Anderson (2015) 5% of all married Americans had met online. 23% of people aged 18-24 had used a dating app before.

So with these facts how does this affect your portrayal online? According to Ellis (2010) and other philosophers the you that is represented online could be the most real you of all. For myself I find I am at my most honest when I am having an online conversation, as you have time to be succinct and think about what you are saying. Online persona is now a place where people are social justice activists, political activists and analysts, commentators of current events, and can have an open platform to portray themselves the way in which they want to be portrayed (Rosenberg and Egbert, 2011).

This concept turns the idea of ‘catfish’ on its head in some aspects. When we talk about ‘catfish’ we are only concentrating on the aesthetics of a profile and a person, we are not looking into their commentary or inner psych, which I deem to be problematic. There is an aspect of Ellis’ (2010) ideals of perfection, but I pose that if we look deeper that our youth are sitting on the cutting edge of activism and expression. Within the tertiary sector social media becomes a student’s greatest study tool, social crutch and networking tool. It is a place where students gather and discuss their grievances through memes and posts in blogs and Facebook pages dedicated to their Universities (See link:

Presumptions vs Truth

Much like Lesko’s (2001) book Act Your Age! it acknowledges that although there is truth and research behind certain aspects of adolescence and we all have our own experiences, presumption is both our biggest tool and greatest deficit. It is easy to presume that our youth are powerless to discern information, argued at the utmost by researchers, such as Hargittai (2010) who argue against what we call digital natives. Those who have grown up with the technology and know nothing other than the technology. I am of the belief that digital natives do exist and that although many such as Hargittai (2010) discuss the youth coming from the realm of protectionism, I would argue that their is a culture at play that researchers are unable to comprehend and take into account and that is that the culture of the internet is its own entity. 

Take for example Aaron Swartz or better known as ours. He was the social justice activist of our time and an icon to those who see themselves as a member of the internet culture.


There is the culture of Reddit, 4Chan, the deep web, Wikileaks, meme culture, ‘catfish’, social media integration, and whole other languages such as text language, emojis and acronym culture. Maton and Bennett (2010) discuss the internet not being the first port of call for many, well the argument can be made that the digital natives know no other way. They are masters of discernment, often the leaders of the household when it comes to technological advancement.


In conclusion, we are presumptuous in believing that ‘catfishing is prevalent’, our youth our powerless and need to learn how to understand the media. When in truth it could be that our youth are so aware of the world they live in that they discern on a level we are unable to attain, as they see the world the only way they know how. Or maybe it is that our youth are so presumptuous that they are unable to see through certain auras or mystery. This blog is not here to give you the answers, but to question the constructs in which we view our student’s ability to discern information through the media and to question identity within the media. You be the judge.

(Warning: The following content may not be suitable for younger family members… Discretion is advised #DangerDanger)



Bennett, S., and Maton, K. (2010). Beyond the ‘digital natives’ debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students’ technology experiences. Journal of Computer assisted learning, DOI: 10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00360.x

Cox, G. (2016). You’re a Catfish if you use Snapchat filters. Retrieved from

Ellis, K. (2010). “Be Who You Want to Be: The Philosophy of Facebook and the Construction of Identity.” Screen Education 58:3641.

Hargittai, E. (2010). Digital Na(t)ives? Variation in Internet Skills and Uses among Members of the  “Net Generation”. Sociological Inquiry. DOI:10.1111/j.1475-682X.2009.00317.x

Lesko, N. (2001). Act Your Age: The Cultural Construction of Adolescence. London: Routledge.

Lovelock, M. (2016). Catching a Catfish: Constructing the “Good” Social Media User in Reality Television. Sage. DOI: 10.1177/1527476416662709

Rosenberg, J., Egbert, N. (2011). “Online Impression Management: Personality Traits and Concerns for Secondary Goals as Predictors of Self-Presentation Tactics on Facebook.” Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication 17 (1): 118.

Scmitz, M. (2013). Why we call fake people “catfish”. Retrieved from

Smith, A., Anderson, M. (2016). Fact Tank: News By Numbers. Retrieved from


2 thoughts on “The Catfish Chronicles -A look into the modern day identity through the lens of social media

  1. Hi sam I like going your and learn the filters and effects on photos. I was surprise my daughter would change photos and send them to friends by snap chat and wee chats. It good know and see actually see how it affects our young people. They kind forget about the reality and going more make up world. this was very well presentation piece ideas especially for me keep with my girl. I had no ideas about all these before. Its a great aware for me for media and digital technology perspective. Thank you Sam , for sharing your thought on —-enjoyed by chandra.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Your blog was thought provoking as I reflected on my own teaching philosophy as to how teaching in the 21st century I am preparing the students of today to become active and contributing citizens of the future growing up in a world surrounded by social media and consistently developing technology. Along with the belief that we now have “digital natives” entering our learning environments, the learning landscape is certainly changing and the real challenge lies in our ability as teachers to adapt and acquire new pedagogy to facilitate new literacies like media literacy in our classrooms.

    I found your discussion on ‘Catfish’ and your illustration of filters extremely useful highlighting the importance for teachers to facilitate our students’ ability to discern information through the media and “to make sense of it, or produce it, and understand its role in our societies” Hoechsmann and Poyntz (2012). More importantly, in my school context, teaching in a Catholic School, is questioning our own morals and self image of how we see ourselves and how we want others to view us as we acknowledge that we are all made in the image and likeness of God.

    As I pondered on the thought of how “media play an important part in the socialization of young people” UNESCO (2006), I can very much relate to your statement on how social media has become a student’s greatest study tool, social crutch and networking tool. My two teenage sons, ages 16 and 14, are high users of their iphones and ipads to access information on the internet, to complete homework, to connect on social media, to communicate with friends and play games.

    I strongly agree with the need to use media literacy as a method to enact language in powerful ways: to question privilege and injustice, to enhance life in school and to constantly access new literacies in an ever-changing world.

    Liked by 1 person

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