The Ethics of ‘Ghosting’  
Ethics in Personal Life

Have You Ever Gone ‘Cat-fishing'?

“The Only Thing You Can Do to Make Catfish Edible is Fry Them”

You’re probably wondering why I used this quote by Blake Shelton, an American country-western singer and song writer. Shelton obviously was thinking about eating catfish not engaging in it as online behavior. Still, the saying seems to have relevance to online catfishing practices from a critical perspective.

Assume you routinely work ten hours a day, six days a week. You are too exhausted at night to socialize at bars and other places. So, you decide to go on an online dating site and try your luck at making a match. You fill out the profile form and wait to hear from potential dates. Three possibilities come up. You communicate online with each, decide to arrange to meet one of the three, go to the restaurant and wait. Ten minutes later, your date arrives. He looks about five years older than his photo, about 6 inches shorter, and twenty pounds heavier. You talk for a while and find out he is not a computer engineer, as he had claimed on his profile, but a software programmer. He didn’t disclose his salary or a salary range even though it was asked for in the profile. What would you do?

Have you ever catfished someone online? When someone says that they have been cat-fished, this tends to mean that they have been duped online by someone who isn’t who they say or present themselves differently. The dishonest behaviors are typically driven by self-interest such as to find someone to date who might not otherwise be attracted to us.

A catfish is intentionally deceptive when creating a social media profile, often with the goal of making a romantic connection. A catfish creates a fake persona online. The deception can be elaborate and may involve the use of fake photos, fake biographies, and false physical attributes. One of the most comprehensive surveys of online dating sites reports that 81 percent of users lied in their profiles: 48.1 percent lied about their height; 59.7 percent about their weight; and 18.7 percent lied about their age. Catfish

Here’s the good news. You probably lied on your profile as well so the two wrongs cancel each other out. Just kidding. Here’s the bad news. They’re not likely to meet your expectations and you may feel harmed by the deception. Dishonesty breeds a lack of trust. A lack of trust leads to questions about whether the other person is reliable. What else might they lie about? Might they cheat on me? All kinds of questions arise about the character of your dating partner.

Lying in an online dating profile may seem to some a minor detail and it is probably true that most people expect it to happen. People who lie in an online profile would not necessarily lie on other occasions so lying on the dating profile reflects a situational ethic. What’s right or acceptable in one situation may be considered wrong in another. For example, most people would probably think twice before lying on a job application for fear of the consequences, yet the same people may think nothing about lying in on online dating profile.

Catfishing is an example of lying as a means to an end – to find a more desirable online date. From a universality perspective, just imagine if everyone engaged in catfishing or other untruthful behaviors online. We no longer would trust much of what we read online. Of course, the notion that fake news exists online plays into these deceptions.

Being honest in an online dating profile is important because your potential date has a right to receive accurate and reliable information to make an informed decision whether to respond positively to you. Presumably, you would not want a potential date to claim to be younger, more attractive, and more gainfully employed, so why should you do so? Your ultimate responsibility as a person of good character, a virtuous person, is to be truthful.

Catfishing has become accepted in our society and represents a decline in civility. It’s bad enough that many of us no longer speak to others with honesty and respect, now we speak to others all too often in an untruthful manner.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, September 11, 2018. Visit Dr. Mintz’s website and sign up for his Newsletter.