So this month was pretty exciting – the folks at Sky TV invited me to become a VIP customer and installed some fab new Sky TV kit in our house.

Sky Broadband isn’t available at high-speed in my area so I can’t try out the new Q service (just yet) but I DID get my some swish new TV boxes, a full TV/movie package, and a multi-room system.

As a professional blogger *cough* who takes reviewing duties v seriously, we have spent most of the past week in bed, watching back-to-back episodes of MTV Catfish, which is available to download from season one to five through the Sky On Demand service.

Fair warning, this isn’t the show for your kids if you don’t want them to be exposed to swearing – I don’t tend to worry, we just have a rule you can hear it, but not say it – but in all other respects, I think it’s massively educational and should be required viewing for young teens.

(For those that don’t know, a Catfish is someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using Facebook or other social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue online relationships.)

Our kids get endless classes and lectures at school about how someone online might not be who they say they are. Lectures, schmectures, right?

Catfish is a weekly true story about a kid who is being fooled, sometimes for years at a time, and the clues they missed along the way. It’s so compelling to kids because these are people not much older than them, using the sites they use.

This show has led to lots of conversations in our house about ways you can find out if the person you’re talking to is likely to be real, or not.


Here are our top tips to find out if you’re talking to a real person, or a Catfish:

1. Always Reverse Image Search:

That photo on someone’s Facebook page? Right click to save it to your desktop. Then drag it into the search bar at Google to perform a Google Image search. It’ll show up any other pages, profiles or websites using the same pictures. If your online friend’s image shows up on a profile in a different country, or with a different name? That’s a red flag.

2. Download Skype:

As parents we’re sometimes wary of webcams, but if Catfish teaches us anything, it’s that kids should be cautious of someone who doesn’t want their face to be seen – Skyping someone doesn’t answer every question but it does at least let you see who you’re talking to, and if they match their profile pictures. If your new friend doesn’t want to video-chat, you should be wondering why.

In case you’re wondering, never get engaged to someone who won’t video chat with you.

3. Use the Telephone:

Another big red flag is someone who only texts. In Catfish, the kids who don’t talk on the phone are most often the ones disguising their age, location or gender – although there are plenty of cases of girls imitating boys and vice versa – so it’s not a sure thing.

4. Check out their Friends Lists:

Genuine social profiles tend to have lots of friends – at least 100 – and more than that, these friends comment on status updates, are tagged in photos, post on walls. Beware of a profile with a small number of friends, or lots of friends who comment in ways that make you think they haven’t met the person who owns the profile.


5. Check out Their Photos

One of the hallmarks of a fake social profile is a relatively small number of photos, and most of them seem ‘posed’ – that’s because they are probably the profile photos of other “real” profiles (your profile photos are often public) or they’re taken from a fan page for someone or other. If in doubt, ask someone to send you a photo of them holding your name, or wearing something specific. Weird, but it works.

6. Lock Down Your Privacy

Catfish often get away with it for a long time, because they are able to find out a lot about their victim and become their “perfect” girl, or guy. So ensure you lock down your profiles, don’t share too much personal info in public.

Google your name from time to time to see what shows up in search results, and make amendments if you need to.

7. Don’t Accept Randoms on Facebook

So there’s this really cute guy on Facebook and he’s friends with this girl I go to school with, and OMG he wants to be my friend. Squeal!

No. No. No.

There are literally hundreds of thousands of fake profiles on Facebook, and they trawl the site looking for someone they think will accept them – and they’ll start adding friends – and before you know it… Catfish! Basically, our rule is, if you haven’t met them, in a setting where you’re happy you know who they really are, then don’t accept the request.


8. Sexting is a Bad Idea

When people find out they’ve been Catfished, it’s rarely pretty. But it’s always a hundred times worse when someone has sent risky pictures or had phone sex. One girl, after finding out she’d had intimate phone chats with her Internet boyfriend who turned out to be a girl from another part of the country, said, “I feel like I had sex with a stranger.”

Which is sort of the point. If you haven’t met ’em, they’re a stranger.

9. Don’t Give Your Heart Too Easily

Typing is oddly intimate, in some ways – and Catfish shows that typing your secrets into the screen to a sympathetic listener can feel a lot like love, especially to an inexperienced, lonely teen.

But Catfish teaches us to use common sense. Make sure your life tips includes a lot of real-life experiences, and remember that infatuation is possible with someone you haven’t met, but love? That comes from the real world.

10. Most People are Good. Ish. 

One of the things that really interesting about Catfish is that it makes the point that most people who catfish have a reason. Sure, it’s occasionally because it’s part of a psycho-revenge plot designed to humiliate someone, but more often it’s someone who is shy, scared, lacks self-confidence, or who doesn’t feel they could successfully have a real world relationship.

I think it’s actually really helpful for kids like Flea to understand that life’s hard if you’re gay or trans, or simply don’t look the way that social media implies you SHOULD look, and that there may be reasons for people to be dishonest online, even if they’re not a criminal or sexual predator.

But of course, sometimes it’s just a confused lesbian pretending to be Bow Wow, or your crazy cousin who’s taking revenge on you for calling her “a fat Kelly Rowland” three years ago.

And that’s why we have reality TV.


Sally is a full-time blogger and founder of the Tots100, Trips100, Foodies100 and HIBS100 communities, along with the MAD Blog Awards. She spends a bit too much time on the Internet. She's also a very happy Mum to Flea, the world's coolest ten year old.