by Karl du Fresne

I’m on the wrong side of 70. This means there are a lot of things about contemporary New Zealand life and manners that I don’t understand.

For one thing, I don’t know what catfishing is. At least, I didn’t until I looked it up online this morning. It turns out that catfishing is what happens when a person assumes someone else’s identity online and uses it to deceive people. It appears to be one of those terms that have crossed over from [anti]social media to mainstream platforms.

NZME – the company that publishes the New Zealand Herald and provides news to a chain of provincial titles – assumes that I, and all its other readers, know what catfishing is, since it used the term in a news story this morning without explaining the meaning. NZME even used it as the key word in the headline: “Teacher’s catfishing ruse”.

Of course there comes a point when every neologism is absorbed into popular usage and no longer needs any explanation, but I don’t think that time has arrived in this case. “Catfishing” is in the Merriam-Webster and Cambridge dictionaries, but that says nothing about the word’s uptake. Prestidigitation and toponymy are in the dictionaries too, but you don’t hear the words in everyday conversation. If I’m derided as a dinosaur because I’m not familiar with catfishing, I’ll wear it.

My guess is that the reporter who wrote the story is of a generation that’s familiar with Twitter-era jargon and didn’t think any clarification was necessary. This is a safe assumption because there seem to be very few working reporters left over the age of 40. Any trained journalist older than that is likely to be working as a strategic communications adviser in a government department.

Something else I don’t understand, notwithstanding that last fact, is why there’s no longer anyone in the newsrooms whose job it is to throw badly written, incomplete or factually erroneous stories back at reporters and demand they fix them.

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‘Catfishing’ is becoming quite prevalent on Facebook; the rule is not to accept a friend request from someone you’re already friends with. In the past we had only one such case — supporters of former Cr David Scott were catfished by the sociopathic ‘Ms Accomplice’ (newer readers will need to put that term in our search box above). There’s also been a case of a Jacinda-government paid troll using pseudonyms, being names of real people opposed to Her government. —Eds