Nev Schulman vs The Catfish

Screen shot 2013-12-10 at 10.15.03 PM

After the indie documentary “Catfish” acquired some fame, MTV backed/acquired the tv show called ‘Catfish: The Tv Show’ (no prize for name originality) which has the same premise as the documentary.

– “Catfish” followed Nev as he embarked on an online relationship with a stranger. The story is driven by Nev’s love interest’s reluctance to meet in person and the multitude of lies Nev and the film makers uncover as they look into who the woman really is and try to find/meet her in real life. If you want to read a full summary do so HERE. Its a link to wikipedia, but i’ve seen the film myself and the plot summary is accurate so no worries.

-In “Catfish The TV Show” Nev is the host and he and his cameraman friend assist a different person every episode in determining if their online love interest is who they say they are, then facilitate a face to face meeting. Same summary deal as “Catfish” HERE.

In case anyone has been under a rock here’s a definition:

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 deceptive online romance

While this show as an example of naming and shaming plays out on the television screen, the internet has a major role also. Firstly the whole subject matter of the series is online relationships, and secondly the internet is presented as the only tool used to discover the truth.

When I first thought about digital naming and shaming, i’ll confess “Catfish: The Tv Show” was not an example that initially came to mind. Sure the goal of the show is to definitively name the person on the other side of the computer, but I didn’t consider shaming to be the goal. After all, when Nev and the ‘victim’ meet the Catfish for the first time its usually a polite, inquisitve and i’d even go as far as saying nice exchange. However as I considered the three goals of naming an shaming that Jacob Rowbottom refers to in chapter 1 of the book Media and Public Shaming I realised that “Catfish the Tv Show” attempts and suceeds in doing all three.


1. to punish informally a named individual

2. to inform the public about their actions or conduct

3. to criticise and express disapproval of them

These three goals apply to “Catfish The Tv Show” in the following ways:

1- There is no legal punishment for the kind of catfishing we see on the show, therefore informal punishment is sought. The embarrassment and shame from being revealed as a Catfish on TV, and the subsequent loss of reputation, and becoming of recognisable infamy serves as the informal punishment. Whiles goals 2 and 3 pretty much describe the plot of each episode, the characters change but those to aims never do.

What “Catfish the Tv Show” as an example of digital naming and shaming does is demonstrate the emphasis of networked vigilantism within the online culture. In this specific case the tv show is a media platform that brings together people who have a single idealistic point of connection, who without the platform or the technology it uses would never cross paths. When the ‘victims’ and members of the show are brought together, vigilantism arises. The group takes matters into there own hands, investigating and seeking out the Catfish so that they personally deliver the ‘informal punishment’.



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