This week, the internet out -weirded itself as I found out that somebody has been catfishing - with my face.
At first I took it as compliment. A stranger had seen my face and thought, 'That's nice. I'll use that to pick up girls'. I was flattered, even felt a bit good about myself. Then I realised how absolutely fucking tragic that was.
'Hey! Strange men pretend to be me so they can trick women! Go me!'
I'd never really considered that people would use my pictures to trick and deceive. I, like many others, post pictures quite freely on Instagram or Twitter. Pictures of my pregnant girlfriend or goddaughter, personal pictures of personal moments. I've never really stopped and thought about exactly who will see them, who can take them, who can use them.
I was curious so I Google searched a picture of myself, as pompous as that sounds, to see if it was being used anywhere else. More than a dozen pages came back, most were legit but some weren't. Twitter, Tinder, Facebook, Google Plus. All different people with different names but one face - mine.
I looked into it further and found more. A twitter account under the name of Owen Davis, a Google Plus account called Jeff Bridges - not that Jeff Bridges. Probably. One guy was even using my picture to just to comment on news articles about noodle places in NYC and reviews for 'The best wood chipper for your garden'.
My initial reaction was to laugh. Quite solidly. For around 20 minutes. But the laughing stopped as I looked into each account and I started to freak out a bit.
I realised that there is something more serious about posing as someone else online; something menacing, dark and disturbing. There was a side to it that involves lies, deceit and even crime. A side that isn't just married, insecure men, after nude pictures for a crafty wank when the wife is away. There is a side run by deviants and perverts; schemers, aided by unaware accomplices.
They're not just hiding behind a stolen photograph, they're creating a whole new life; a personality, achievements, jobs, friends. One massive web of deceit, created purely to entice and entrap unsuspecting victims.
On the internet, we can be whoever we want to be. Even those of us who do show our own face. We pick and choose exactly what we want to say, exactly what we want people to know or think about us. We sieve through the shitty waters of our week to pick out the few nuggets of gold that we're happy to show off. We are in complete control of how we're portrayed, we get to paint our own picture and add some extra filters.
That's not a crime - if it is, we're all fucked. Pretending your life is a little better than it actually is to make people a bit jealous is a pretty harmless act. But to go online, disguised as someone else completely, creating a whole new life and building relationships upon lies - that is something else entirely.
We all know the dangers of the internet, we're not idiots. We trust ourselves and our own judgement. We're grown men and women, we know right from wrong. But sometimes that isn't quite enough. Sometimes being manipulated and tricked can happen without us even knowing. Sometimes people can delve into our insecurities and play us without us even knowing we were part of a game. We're all capable of having our judgement blurred by love or lust.
Don't get me wrong, I've flirted online, even met a few women who, until I arrived at their house, I'd only ever saw a picture of. I didn't do a background check. I didn't put their image through google or investigate Facebook. Did they? Probably not.
I just trusted my instinct, which isn't a crime. If I was murdered by one of them, it wouldn't be my fault. I wouldn't be to blame for not doing my homework but it could, or perhaps should, have been preventable.
Unfortunately we share this world with some nasty people. People who justify their existence purely by putting their time and effort into being deceitful and cruel to others.
To put it simply, these people are fucking weird and really can be dangerous.
Hiding behind an anonymous picture to send abusive messages is one thing but to tactfully pursue somebody for weeks and months, to create a false life, burrow into insecurities, exploit vulnerabilities, trap, lie and gain trust for no reason other than personal kicks, is truly horrific and utterly terrifying.
It's not about somebody using my picture, it is about what they could be using it for. It is about people being tricked, people being hurt and somebody being punished for taking someone on face value.
The internet is an easy game for predators and it is going to take a lot more than a couple of blue ticks to protect ourselves. We have to up our game. We need real procedure, real security. The cowards have it far too easy and we are doing absolutely nothing to challenge them.