'Catfish' host and slippery world of online identities

Yaniv "Nev" Schulman

Yaniv "Nev" (pronounced "neeve") Schulman knows a thing or two about being duped. He is the protagonist of the 2010 documentary "Catfish," which followed his pursuit of an online romantic relationship, the result of which helped coin the term "catfishing," when someone dupes another via social media.

In his MTV gig as host of "Catfish: The TV Show," Schulman has seen dozens of online relationships crumble because of virtual deception.

In his new book, "In Real Life: Love, Lies & Identity in the Digital Age," Schulman shares pieces of his personal journey and discusses memorable episodes from his MTV show as well as the documentary.

Schulman, 29, who lives in Los Angeles, offered some advice from the trenches regarding online relationships, romantic or otherwise, and the challenge of living an authentic life, online and off. Following is an edited transcript.

Q: Your MTV show has unmasked dozens of online relationships. Do you think the Internet makes people braver?

A: I don't think people are more brave; I think it's the total opposite. I think people have become less brave, less confrontational, even though by definition what they are doing (lying on the Internet) is wrong. And they're perhaps doing it more comfortably and living their lives in ways that are actually less authentic and less risky so they don't have to put themselves in situations that make them feel uncomfortable or vulnerable.

Q: Name some red flags that may indicate to someone they could be the victim of a catfish.

A: Red flags of an online relationship run very parallel to red flags in a real, physical relationship: Not being available or seeming to (always) have excuses, an inability to provide you with seemingly simple things like details about a job or family, or proof that they are who they say they are. Also, if the excuses are of the dramatic nature — sickness, illness, accidents, disasters — that's a sign they're lying to you.

Q: You speak in the book about your experience in the documentary, falling for a woman who didn't exist.

A: While that experience was one that I wouldn't wish on other people and was in some ways embarrassing and heartbreaking, it's also the one that does define my life and certainly gave me the opportunity to have this terrific career that I'm just getting started, so I wouldn't change anything.

Q: Knowing all you know now, what would you do differently?

A: If I could give myself advice back to that time in my life, I would offer the suggestion that perhaps this distraction, perhaps this new relationship, these new people who are fresh and clean and disconnected from your past and your present life, are really just an excuse for you to continue not dealing with yourself. And while you should engage with people (online) and share creativity and ideas, make sure you're doing it for the right reasons and you're not sort of chasing your tail and putting off learning how to really connect with people.

Q: You say we all are catfish. Can you explain?

A: In some ways, we all — through our social media — are catfish in the sense that we create a version of ourselves. We have the power to present the version (of ourselves) we would like people to see, and because of the system that is in place now with social media ... we've all started to crave and almost become addicted to that external appreciation and attention and sort of being liked.

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Please keep it clean, turn off CAPS LOCK and don't threaten anyone. Be truthful, nice and proactive. And share with us - we love to hear eyewitness accounts.

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