If you spend any amount of time online, you’ve probably heard of the term catfish or catfishing. No, we’re not talking about noodling for fish, we’re talking about the process of creating fake social media profiles and pretending you are somebody else in order to further your agenda with another person. Some people catfish in order to talk to the opposite sex, and others do it for more nefarious reasons, but the action of catfishing often has real victims, including the identity of the person whose real pictures or name is being used to create the fake profiles.
That’s what recently happened to Bobby Faerber, a professional photographer who was alerted by a friend that somebody was using his likeness and pictures online. The catfisher had created a profile on the dating site Plenty of Fish in order to seem more appealing to the opposite sex, and eventually the catfish attempted so solicit nude pictures from some of the women he had been talking to.
Upset that people may think that he was the one behind these crude requests, and the potential loss in business if people connected the fake profile to Faerber’s photography business, Faerber became a digital detective. Faerber took a number of screenshots and actually contacted the catfisher in order to see what kinds of things the fake Faerber was saying to women.
“It’s just super frustrating, seeing the things that he was saying to a potential person that he doesn’t know,” Faerber said of the conversation.”
Faerber took all this evidence, put it on a USB drive and turned it over to police. But one major issue still stood in the way of Faerber’s justice – Minnesota does not currently have any anti-catfishing laws.
Although they couldn’t charge the individual, who police later identified as Jesse Gullickson, 30, with a catfishing crime, they were able to bring charges of a lesser known statute called criminal defamation. Only 10 people in the entire state of Minnesota have been convicted of criminal defamation over the last five years. The criminal defamation law reads:
Whoever with knowledge of its false and defamatory character orally, in writing or by any other means, communicates any false and defamatory matter to a third person without the consent of the person defamed is guilty of criminal defamation and may be sentenced to imprisonment for not more than one year or to payment of a fine of not more than $3,000, or both.
A tearful Gullickson was convicted of criminal defamation, and the judge sentenced him to two years of probation. He was also ordered not to create any social media or dating profiles during that time. But in the wake of the conviction, legal minds are wondering if something aimed directly at catfishing needs to be on the books in Minnesota.
“As technology advances, it’s like the legislature is a little slow to catch up, and they don’t have laws in the books that are specifically for this crime, so you have to kind of see what fits,” said Brown County Attorney Chuck Hanson. “When you have to do sort of gymnastics to figure out what’s going to fit – you shouldn’t have to do that. There should be a law on the books that says this is illegal and this is the punishment.”
More states are adding anti-catfishing laws to the books, so it wouldn’t be surprising is Minnesota did the same in the not so distant future.