The Facts and Fantasies behind Facebook Profiles

Behind every Facebook profile is a story. Sometimes it is action-adventure, romance, or drama — and, sometimes, its a fantasy. No one know this better than New York photographer Yaniv ‘Nev’ Schulman who explored on this reality on film as it unfolded in his own life.

Catfish,  a 2010 documentary film by Nev, his brother Ariel, and Henry Joost follows the relationships that Nev develops with Abby Pierce an 8-year-old Facebook fan, her sultry sister Megan, and her mother Angela.  The story begins when Abby sends him a painting of one of his photographs. Thereafter, they become Facebook friends in a network that broadens to include Abby’s family.

As the relationship grows, Abby continues to send artwork and Nev explores romantic possibilies with Megan over the Internet and phone calls. This triggers a series of suspicious exchanges that inspire Nev to meet the family face-to-face in order to confront them about false claims and unravel a hoax.

This ‘stranger than fiction’ documentary is funny, tense and riveting. I had the opportunity to see the film in San Francisco during its limited release (12 US theatres) on September 19.

After seeing the movie, I’m reminded of the 2010 article in Psychological Science that contends that our Facebook profiles are often the most accurate reflection of who we are. In the article, Mitja Back of Johannes Gutenberg University (Mainz, Germany) said people use Facebook to express who they really are rather than idealized versions of themselves.  His research was based on personality inventories from 133 U.S. Facebook users and 103 Germans using a similar social-networking site.  In Back’s assessment, an individual’s Facebook profile is typically a more accurate reflection of the person than meeting them face to face.

In Catfish, this wasn’t the case. In this movie, Angela Wesselman Pierce provides a vulnerable glimpse of how social networks provide an outlet for some people to recreate unfulfilled aspects of their self image.  In sharing this glimpse with movie-goers, it’s clear that she’s recaptured part of that self image as a successful and expressive artist.

Credits: Image is from Catfish, the film. In anticipation of meeting the girl of his dreams, Nev Photoshops themselves together in this prov0cative pose.

Tennessee Stud

This rendition of Johnny Cash’s song by Suzanna Choffel (Momo’s in Austin, TX) is featured in the documentary “Catfish.” As  ‘Nev’ Schulman learned, it’s an easy voice to fall in love with.

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