Fishing for online imposters
Nev Schulman has made a career out of exposing the truths and lies of online dating. He talks to James Croot about how his team go about uncovering the cheats and fakers.
How did your hit film Catfish end up as a TV show? Was that something you ever envisaged when you set out on the original "documentary"?
In the way that the documentary happened and was successful, it was clear to us, based on the response of the film, that we had only just begun the conversation about online identity and digital love. So we were looking for a way to continue the discussion and explore many of the stories and emails and requests for help that I had started to get. A television show would give us the ability to go explore these stories and meet these people and help them, week after week - it seemed like the perfect fit. It wasn't something that I was actively pursuing, much like the film; it kind of found me and I realised that I had a unique opportunity to do something relevant and helpful and meaningful.
What's the strangest or most memorable "catfish" you've encountered?
The strangest catfish (a person who has created a fake personal profile on a social media site to trick someone into falling in love with them) that we've ever met was a young man who believed that his fake email identity online could be used to engage men who were in relationships in real life and teach them a lesson about not cheating on their girlfriend. So basically there was a guy pretending to be a girl and getting in very deep relationships online - while also having a girlfriend in real life - to rid the world of cheaters by embarrassing and humiliating them. It was messed up.
What would be your list of questions to help you determine the genuineness of someone?
I don't think there is a question that can answer that. Relationships are built on an exchange that is at once intensely personal while at the same time incredibly trivial. And determining how genuine someone is can only come from shared experiences and going through a situation, and disagreeing about things.
How would you describe yourself on an internet dating site?
Jerry Seinfeld and Robin Williams had a love child.
Why do you think people are prepared to deceive each other in such a potentially devastating way? Is this behaviour uniquely American? If not, are people in the US (in your experience) better or worse than their online deceptions?
I think there is a built-in selfishness that is part of human nature, and it's not a bad selfishness but it's the need to feel loved and the desire to be wanted. I don't think it's specific to America or any country. If you take away the internet and expose everyone who is online and pretending to be someone they're not - whether it's for love or hate - you'll find that there is a human being there who is not happy and who is dealing with intense insecurity, anger and disappointment. If you take the time to let them explain and understand them, I think you'll find that they are always better than the profile they created.
How do you choose which "stories" to research and broadcast?
We don't choose the stories; we have a team of people who look for situations that are complicated, diverse, that involve people that have invested a huge amount of time and emotion and are really putting a lot of their expectation and future goals into it working out. But going into it, Max and I and the entire crew, we know as much as the viewer, which keeps it so authentic.
Has Facebook peaked?
Do you think there will come a day where everyone will initially meet their partner via online means? Will that be a great day or Armageddon for humanity?
There's a part of me that feels like the internet should go away and that people should just live their lives, but there's also a part of me that thinks it's great that people are able to connect around the world. I just hope that we can do this in a more honest and respectful way.
Catfish, 9.30pm, Wednesdays, MTV.