Catching a Catfish: Nev Schulman and Michelle Dennedy have a Conversation with the Students of Gertz-Ressler High School

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In honor of National Cyber Security Awareness Month (NCSAM), McAfee joined up with the National Cyber Security Alliance at Gertz-Ressler High School in Los Angeles to educate the students on how to be responsible cyber citizens. Guest speakers Nev Schulman (of MTV Catfish fame) and Michelle Dennedy, our own McAfee Chief Privacy Officer, held an open conversation with the students, learning which ways the teens use the internet, and then providing useful guidance and safety tips.

In the days leading up to the event, I had the opportunity to work with the students of the adjoining middle school, and the parents of both the middle and high schools,  giving them insight on how to stay safe online. I found the students, parents, and educators at this school to be notably smart, enthusiastic about technology, and all around impressive. Especially impressive were the The ‘Gertz Nerds’, a group of students focused on technology and sharing the information they have with their peers.

The Gertz Nerds kicked off the conversation with Nev and Michelle by sharing insight into certain hot cyber topics, such as cyber bullying, online privacy and risky online relationships. Seeing these students present this important information in front of more than 500 of their peers was remarkable because not only were the students were passionate about technology, they were able to quickly to get to the root of the issue, effectively delivering the message in a way that an adult cannot.

Of the many issues discussed, the topic of risky online relationships seemed to be a theme tied throughout the conversation. The internet offers the opportunity to network with people across the globe, if used responsibly, these relationships can serve as tools to change the world. The key word here being ‘responsibly’. In a study done by McAfee named the Digital Divide, it was discovered that 1 in 10 teens has physically met someone in person that they only knew on the internet. This stat is highly alarming, especially considering the fact that catfishing—or pretending to be someone you are not on the internet—is so popular.

When asked if they had ever been catfished, many students raised their hands. In response, Nev and Michelle offered the helpful tips below.

How to Catch a Catfish

  • A ‘Friend’ You Don’t Know: If you receive a friend or follow request from someone you’ve never met, and don’t go to school with or work with, there’s a good chance they are trying to catfish you. Even if you have mutual friends, this could be an attempt by the catfish to appear real. Don’t accept friends or follows from anyone you don’t have direct contact with.
  • Quality, not Quantity: Does the profile in question have less than 100 friends? Or maybe more than 1,000? If so, this could be a fake account, especially if there are not lots of photos associated with the account.
  • Photo Tags: Check out the pictures – maybe there are lots of pictures posted, but there is nobody tagged? Catfish will many times steal photos from other accounts and then post them to theirs, making it look like they have lots of friends, yet they don’t actually know the people in the pictures.
  • Trust your gut: If someone you know in real life seems to be acting in a way online that they don’t in person, give them a call. Be honest with yourself, and if things start to feel weird, let somebody know. As Michelle pointed out, “Just because you started down a path, doesn’t mean you have to finish it.”

Share these tips with kids in your life, and with your friends and followers. Have you ever been catfished, or do you have a tip or trick to catch a catfish? Share below or tweet to me @tctompkins.

Nev Schulman and Myself               Michelle Dennedy and Myself

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