Screens: MTV

Can Catfish Track Down And Shame Falesha's Identity Thief?

High school was hell for Falesha because someone impersonated her online and started bullying all her friends. Online avengers to the rescue!

The Client

Falesha, from outside Pittsburgh.

The Beloved Target

"Jacqueline," someone who stole Falesha's photos to create a fake profile online.

The Story

This is a non-standard episode, as the above would indicate, so what happened was that after existing online as "Jacqueline" for a while, this person changed the name on her profile to Falesha, tricked all Falesha's real-life friends into friending or following her, and then started bullying them (for instance: telling them to kill themselves) as well as posting sexual invitations ("Come over and fuck me"). Jacqueline disappeared in 2011, but a couple of weeks ago she resurfaced with a taunting message for Falesha.

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Falesha hasn't gotten anywhere ignoring the profile or trying to confront the person behind it, so...here she is hoping Nev and Max can sort this shit out.

The Investigation

Here's what Falesha was able to figure out on her own: she knows that "Jacqueline" is female because she used to call Falesha; Falesha's mom tracked the number (sloppy, Jacqueline) to someplace in Maryland. When Max and Nev get down to their own sleuthing, they turn out to have been very fortunate that some of the people whose lives Jacqueline so memorably touched did some investigating on their own back then. A Jennifer that they contact calls and reports that after friending "Jacqueline" because she was "friend-thirsty" at the time, she almost immediately started getting harassed by her (with several people commenting that Jacqueline was a fake, only for Jacqueline to delete them from her page). To find out whether the deleted commenters were correct, Jennifer created a fake profile using beefcake photos of a friend of hers; after tricking Jacqueline into falling for "Trevor," Jennifer...okay, this is so bizarre that I have to quote the whole thing: "I asked her for her login because I told her I wanted to write sweet things on her wall as her, but tag them as me, so people would know she's in a relationship." What???? Is this something teenagers are doing now? Why couldn't "Trevor" just "write sweet things" on Jacqueline's wall as "himself"? Is this the 2015 version of, like, giving your boy/girlfriend your school locker combination?!

Whatever: this supervillain somehow got taken in by this ruse and gave Jennifer her login, whereupon Jennifer figured out her real name (from the email address she signed up with, I'm guessing), which is Tracey [Redacted]. Jennifer then changed all the settings on Jacqueline's account, ultimately closing it. "Is there anything else you know about this girl?" asks Nev. Other than her full name? Nope, apparently that's all she can help you with, Nev, you lazy bitch.

So since Jennifer got out ahead of this four years ago, the rest is pretty simple: they google Tracey [Redacted] and immediately find someone with that name in [Redacted], Maryland.

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They find a Facebook profile for Tracey that indicates she's deleting it, and that anyone who wants to reach her should text her at [full phone number]. But do Nev and Max call or text her immediately to confirm or deny that Jennifer has solved this mystery? No, of course not!

The Presentation Of Findings

Falesha meets Max and Nev at some tea room with a couple of her friends, I guess to forestall my question about this episode, which is: why did so many of Falesha's friends fall for the fake and shun her? Like, in this scene Falesha complains that because of Jacqueline/Tracey, she went from having a good reputation in high school to someone of whom people said "she's nothing but drama." But if Falesha was there, at school, available for in-person interaction, why wouldn't the people "she" seemed to be harassing online find her in real life and ask her why she was posting stuff about her poopy vagina or expressing the view that they should get brain cancer and die? Theory: Falesha was maybe kind of a dick back then? Discuss!

Whatever, these two girls confirm that Falesha is nice, and Nev and Max tell Falesha what they Jennifer found out about Tracey. Falesha authorizes Nev to make contact, and he steps out to call Tracey. From the second she picks up the phone, it's clear something is Not Right with this girl: according to the information available online, she's twenty, but she sounds as breathlessly excited as a tween. She's definitely heard of Catfish and immediately cops to the fake: "Jacqueline Linkwood: yep, that's me. [ten seconds of giggling]" Nev says "we" want to meet her, and she (reasonably) asks whom she'll be meeting up with. Nev says, "It'll be me and Max" and then drops his volume like twenty decibels to add "and Falesha." The fact that she asks for specifics makes me assume Falesha's not the only person she's done this to, but anyway, when she hears her name she starts giggling again and asks what happens if Falesha "tries to jump" her. Nev, not that reassuringly, says that's not something he'd want to happen either, though he makes no promises that it won't. Before hanging up, Tracey adds, "Tomorrow's my birthday." Nev tightly says, "This will be one to remember." Tracey: "[insane giggle]"

Nev is unsettled, and so am I! His characterization of Tracey's manner causes Falesha to remark, "That's scary," and for once, Nev hasn't oversold it. Falesha's nervous to meet Tracey in real life considering how "repulsive" she is in real life, but she's committed to do it.

The Confrontation

So is Tracey the Tracey we're expecting?

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She is. Good job, Jennifer. Right away, we can see Tracey is having the best birthday ever: when Nev slightly steps out of the doorway to show Tracey, "We're here with someone you might recognize," she's plotzing.

Gifs: Previously.TV

Gifs: Previously.TV

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Tracey tells Nev, of Falesha, "I don't like her. She stole all of Jacqueline Linkwood's friends." Regardless, she agrees to let them all come inside the house, where everyone stands around awkwardly -- except Tracey, having THE TIME OF HER LIFE.

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Nev, who's used to people in Tracey's position being some combination of furtive, embarrassed, and defiant, comments that she's "relatively chipper," and Tracey enthusiastically agrees: "I'm always cheerful. That's just my personality." So does she...literally become someone else online to tell strangers they should get brain cancer? Are we dealing with an actual dissociative personality disorder? I'm not a psychiatrist so I won't try to diagnose Tracey, but there does seem to be something wrong with her on a clinical level such that some might say MTV is wrong to exploit her by broadcasting this episode if she is maybe not capable of understanding what she was consenting to when she agreed to do it? That said: MTV did broadcast it, so let's get through this together.

Max's first attempt to understand what he's watching right now is to ask Tracey, "Are you putting on an act right now?" She says she's not: "This is really me when I'm me. I'm just really [giggle] energy -- I work with kids, so [shrug]....They love me so much. They're like my best friends -- they're like my little puppies, they're so cute." Attention, Maryland parents: if you've seen this woman at your child's day care centre, maybe find another facility?

Moving on: Nev asks why Tracey did all this shit to Falesha. She claims she was bored, and likens her dual identity as "Miley/Hannah [Montana]." As Jacqueline, she could talk to anyone she wanted "and, like, bully people and stuff" -- something she wanted to do because at the time people bullied her. Nev points out that it's kind of a weird way for her to get revenge -- bullying people who hadn't done anything to her. Tracey replies that they did bully her: "They were like, 'You're fake, you're fake.'" Nev/Max/entire viewership: "You WERE fake!"

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When Nev informs Tracey that a lot of people still hate Falesha because they think Tracey's fake profile of her was real, Tracey shrugs, "I really don't like Falesha, I think she deserves that. She thinks she's a model and she thinks she's all that. I'm still mad at her. Jacqueline was popular. She had all that popularity, and Falesha ruined it. That's why I don't really like her." Falesha, incredulously, asks if Tracey thinks she should apologize for that. Tracey giggles some more. Max:

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Gif: Previously.TV

Gif: Previously.TV

MAAAAAAAAAAX! I am going to have to stop mocking your toy camera soon because ever since you came back from your directing break you have been [fire emoji] and I treasure you.

Tracey is offended by the question, but the way she phrases her answer -- "I am not on drugs! I never took a drug in my life!" -- makes me think she didn't hear the question as Max asked it. To me, he was asking not "Are you high?" but "Do you normally take drugs that you have maybe stopped, to which your current erratic behaviour is attributable?" And if Tracey is not on psychiatric meds...maybe she should be?

Falesha asks why Tracey seems so proud of having created Jacqueline, to which Tracey responds that cyberbullying people made her "feel tough." "And what if someone you cyberbullied killed themselves?" Tracey:

Gif: Previously.TV

Gif: Previously.TV

"Really?" she chirps. "Yeah, really," says Max. Tracey: "I wouldn't cry! Like, would you want me to cry? It's not my fault they killed themself. They made that choice themselves, so it's their fault, not mine." Falesha starts hectoring her about it, which seems unproductive, particularly given that (a) Tracey's already on the record as not giving a shit, and (b) as far as we know this is an entirely hypothetical question anyway. You're not going to shame her into remorse, guys: just stop giving her this platform she's clearly THRILLED to have and LEAVE! Max proves his awesomeness once again by essentially saying what I just did -- calling this discussion "relatively pointless" -- and they all make to leave...but not before Tracey asks, "Falesha, are you going to say happy birthday?" She does not. Tracey: "[crazy giggle]" Left alone in her living room with the secondary camera crew, Tracey has a final thought:

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The crew finally leaves her with a toy camera, which she takes into the bathroom so she can report that having Catfish at the house on her birthday was great and that she wishes she could do it again.

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Yep.

The Post-Confrontation Confrontation

There's a lot of armchair psychoanalysis of whether Tracey is "mirroring"...stuff she saw on Hannah Montana? But no one's obviously going to be satisfied until Tracey apologizes or expresses regrets about the Jacqueline/fake Falesha escapade, so they arrange to go back and see her the next day -- this time, sitting next to her mother, Dorcus, which they hope will make Tracey act right lest she piss off her mom. Max notes that Tracey's much quieter today, and sure enough, she giggles that it's because her mom is there, which Tracey didn't want her to be. "She like attention," Dorcus confirms. "I like attention, good or bad," Tracey agrees. "I don't care." Dorcus then volunteers, "I didn't sleep last night" -- which the Catfish crew are clearly hoping is because she was all torn up about Tracey's cyber-misadventures, but is actually due to the fact that Tracey's younger brother is in the hospital after collapsing at school. Immediately, my antenna goes up -- Fake Son Fake-Hospitalized is a classic among liars on this show, meaning I wonder if Dorcus is in on Tracey's scheme -- but if she is, we don't find out.

Before Dorcus heads out to the hospital, Nev asks what she knows about this situation, which turns out to be nothing, requiring everyone to recap it, like, we've been watching? GET ON WITH IT. "You weren't taught to be like that," says Dorcus wearily. "You know I always say 'Die of brain cancer' when I get mad," says Tracey. "I always say 'die of brain cancer'"? SHE HAS A CATCHPHRASE? AND IT'S THAT?! Dorcus apparently DOES know Tracey always says that, and reminds her that she's asked Tracey not to say that. Tracey giggles. Falesha adds that the issue for her was that Tracey was posting this shit online while pretending to be Falesha.

Gif: Previously.TV

Gif: Previously.TV

Dorcus seems embarrassed by Tracey's scoffing and eye-rolling and tells her it's not funny. Tracey disagrees. Dorcus orders Tracey to apologize to Falesha, and Tracey refuses. This girl is twenty? Years old? Nev tells Dorcus the reason they're concerned is "Your daughter's out of control." "I'm not changing who I am, this is me, I don't care," shrugs Tracey. Again: this is going nowhere. Just leave. But no, they have to try to understand the REASON for Tracey's shittiness, so it's helpful that Dorcus offers up Tracey's father's incapacitating stroke -- which occurred when Tracey was eleven, around the time she started the Jacqueline business. Before the stroke, "If you don't listen, he would do what a man is supposed to do," Dorcus explains. "He was tough on the kids?" Nev asks, which is a cute way of asking whether Dorcus's husband was abusive, I guess. She says he was. "I can do whatever I want now," says Tracey. I mean, you can? Because you're twenty? You're an adult?

Dorcus leaves to go see her son; once she's gone, Max tells Tracey her mother is "sweet." "I don't think so," says Tracey, going on to add, "I just don't like my mom. [unhinged giggle]" After her mother's gone, Max, Nev, and Falesha all try to explain to her that she could face criminal charges for what she's done (I'm not sure that's true if it happened when she was a minor, but maybe?), but she informs them, "Nothing bad ever happens to me....I'm a really good person." Finally, she does apologize for stealing Falesha's photos, but not with a huge amount of sincerity.

You just need to watch the episode. Words can't convey how creepy it is to watch Tracey carrying on in this totally bizarre manner. Nev keeps saying he's concerned about Tracey and thinks she needs help; I'm not particularly concerned, but she sure seems like she could benefit from working with a qualified mental health professional.

Hugs?

Falesha hugs Dorcus while wishing her son a speedy recovery, but that's it.

The Aftermath

Two months later, Falesha's getting ready to go to school to become an accountant. She hasn't heard from Tracey, but there haven't been any more fake profile flare-ups either. Tracey's brother is fine. Tracey claims she's no longer using any fake profiles online, so it must be true. She met a guy recently. As for her grating personality: "I'm working on it."

The Life Lessons Learned

If your friend starts posting status updates about her poopy vagina, give her the benefit of the doubt and ask if that was actually her. Pay better attention to your daughter so she doesn't turn into a shithead online. Hannah Montana is not fit programming for the mentally ill.

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