"Catfishing" could be become illegal in Ireland under new legislation proposed by Senator Lisa Chambers.
Senator Chambers was previously a victim of catfishing, as her social media images were used by others on dating apps.
"Catfishing" refers to the practice of using a fictional persona on dating apps. Most commonly , it refers to using fake images, but can also refer to presenting a false identity, as evidenced in Netflix show, the Tinder Swindler.
Catfishing can have a range of harmful effects on victims, from emotional and psychological stress, to financial fraud or sexual violence. The pretence can go on for months or even years, having far reaching effects in the personal life of the victim. Podcasts such as Sweet Bobby or the GAA Catfish have shown how catfishing is complex and often not motivated by financial gain. Regardless of the consequences of catfishing, there are no legal repercussions for the person or persons responsible.
Senator Chambers is at the early stages of drafting a bill that would protect victims of catfishing. The senator believes legal protections could be provided by amending the Non-fatal Offences Against the Person Act, and has been working with legal advisors to attempt to define catfishing in a legal context, ensuring the law would deal with all aspects of the practice.
Speaking to the Irish Independent Senator Chambers said:“I think with catfishing, people might think that it’s only harmless ‘messing’ online. But you can absolutely devastate somebody emotionally, psychologically, financially. You can really, really harm a person, even if it’s not in a physical way. There’s a clear gap in our legislation because we’re still catching up with the online space.”