You have probably seen the show “Catfish” on MTV by now...the one where they basically expose people pretending to be someone they’re not on the internet? It’s a cool concept where someone gets to finally meet a person that they’ve only been speaking to online.
It begins with us being introduced to someone who typically hasn’t done more than exchange texts or messages with the other person. This means they’ve never heard a voice and they don’t know what the other person really looks like.
And, spoiler alert, when the person finally does get to meet the person behind the computer screen, it’s usually not what they were expecting. In fact, it’s everything they weren’t expecting. Oh, you thought you were texting some hot lingerie model from Brazil? Too bad because you’ve been texting this unemployed comic book collector that lives in his mom’s basement the whole time.
Wikipedia defines catfishing as “a type of deceptive activity involving a person creating a sock puppet social networking presence for nefarious purposes”. There have been plenty of different types of stories about catfishing over the years, but they all center around social media. The reasons that people “catfish” include anything from getting back at someone to getting money or expensive gifts all while remaining anonymous/pretending to be someone else.
Or sometimes people are just bored.
But it’s not just random people getting fooled by others playing the catfish games. None of us ever know who is on the other side of the computer when dealing with people we’ve never met. It’s just that simple.
One of the things that a lot of these posers on “Catfish” have in common, is that they use photos of models they found on Instagram or Facebook as their own. Right click-save as a few dozen times and soon they have enough photos to convince someone else that they really are that person.
In the wedding industry, pictures are everything. A strong portfolio of previous work is what we all show to potential clients. Pictures are what help engaged couples decide where they want to get married and whom they want to hire. Now, many couples use social media to plan their wedding and they are believing everything that they are seeing.
Which means if they see a picture of a wedding associated with a social media profile, they are going to assume that is the work of that person.
What happens when it’s not?
The image above is one of many examples of
stolen photos how some vendors choose to advertise on social media. It’s a collage with a ceremony set up and a cropped photo of a chandelier. The caption is simple and reads:
“Sheer Elegance #WeddingWednesday”
There are 99 likes so far. That’s 99 people that most likely assume that photo is the work of that designer.
There are three total comments, one of which is by the person behind the profile adding additional hashtags. The other two comments both praise the designer’s work.
The only problem is...that design is someone else’s work entirely.
See that middle picture above? Look familiar? That image, along with the cropped chandelier photo in the Instagram post, originally came from this website. The Instagram post includes only one tag, that of the original photographer. There is no tag to credit the original florist, A Touch of Elegance.
It doesn’t stop there. If a bride saw that Instagram post and was so inclined to then visit that vendor’s website, they would also come across this picture:
As fast as you can hit right click save as, you can also do an image search. Where else does this image show up?
On Karen Tran’s website. Right here:
Guys. It literally says “all images copyrighted”. It’s. Right. There.
But why would anyone want to do that?
Well, if people can catfish others by pretending to be hot models from Brazil in order to get their cell phone bills paid by unsuspecting victims, then it’s just as easy to catfish a bride to get her to hire you for her wedding.
Think about it. Instagram is a photo sharing site. No one actually reads the damn captions, which is why they are usually short or just a bunch of emojis. Social media marketing managers will tell you to put your message in the actual photo, if you have one, because people don’t read the captions. Captions are reserved for hashtags so that other people can find you.
And that means that when people see a picture on Instagram they are going to automatically assume that it belongs to the person posting it. Which is exactly what some wedding vendors take advantage of.
It’s really passive aggressive too because these people, once caught, will say things like “I never said that was my work,” or “I was just showcasing something I thought was beautiful.”
Bullshit. Bullshit on both of those types of statements and anything else that these people try to spin as facts. These con-artists know exactly what they are doing and play stupid when their hand gets caught in the cookie jar. They play up the fact that because they didn’t claim the work, that means they weren’t implying it was their work either.
So, if it’s not your work, then why didn’t you tag the person you stole it from?
If you were just showcasing something you thought was beautiful, why not just re-post and tag?
They have answers for those questions too. In fact, it’s usually the same answer for both and uses ignorance as an excuse:
“I don’t know their social media handles.”
And how do I know all of this? Because it’s been going on for years. This isn’t new, it’s just harder to tell real from fake when there are millions of wedding photos on Instagram, Pinterest and countless websites. It’s also a practice that is defended by others because they have convinced themselves that they aren’t doing anything wrong. It is lying by omission and they don’t consider that lying.
It is, by definition, “catfishing”. Just like basement dwelling little gnomes pretending to be celebrity porn stars online in order to get their rent paid, these vendors use pictures that aren’t theirs to get business from newly engaged couples.
I said before that this has been going on for years and it has. A few years ago, there was a local designer or florist or whatever the hell she was pretending to be, showcasing her work on a popular wedding website. This is a website that vendors pay money to advertise on. Vendors get an entire page where their information is listed including as many photos as they can upload.
Just like on Instagram, every engaged couple that comes to that website assumes that when they look at a vendor’s portfolio, they are looking at samples of the vendor’s work.
But why? It’s just a picture and they’ve never even met the person. And if people can write their own reviews or get their friends to do it, how hard is it to create an entire portfolio using someone else’s photos?
Right Click Save As. No morals or ethics necessary.
So this particular vendor had over a dozen stolen images in her portfolio on this wedding website. I had suspected this person was stealing images because they just appeared in the industry like they had been present for 900 years already. Yet no one had ever heard of them.
Since it didn’t add up, I did a super quick image search on one photo in their portfolio. It didn’t take two seconds for me to find the original image that belonged to a vendor halfway across the country. It took me even less time to contact the photographer to let her know her images were being used.
I also took the time to contact someone at the wedding website. I presented almost 20 images that she had stolen and provided the websites they were stolen from. I was told they would look into it.
Guess what though? They never did. Because deep down, people in this industry know that this is going on. They also feel that nothing can be done and there is this lackadaisical, “fuck it, who cares?” attitude...until it happens to them.... that is...if they ever find out.
Since there’s not some magical way that you can search the internet and all of social media to find out if any of your work is being passed off as someone else’s, this practice, while frowned upon, is allowed to continue. Frankly, even if a search like that was possible, who has the time to do it?
All of that, the belief that it won’t happen to you, or that you’ll never know if it does, along with being met with a passive aggressive defense should you even catch the person and then possibly ending up looking like some psycho internet stalker when you do....all of that, is what allows these people to get away with it.
But let’s be clear that this is absolutely catfishing. This is pretending to be something you’re not in order to get something from someone else. This isn’t about acknowledging the amazing work of a colleague no matter how many times you claim that it is.
Not your work? Not your photo? There are plenty of ways to make that clear and if you choose to do none of them, then you are a catfish.
Incidentally, that vendor with the fake portfolio on that wedding website ended up with so many horrible reviews from real people that she closed up her business. Then, about a year later, she came back for round 2 with a brand new name and the same cheap tricks.
She’s out of business again.