Nev Schulman of “Catfish” Speaks at Loyola’s Symposium

Noah Johnsen | The PHOENIXNev Schulman discussed ethics and relationships in the digital age at Loyola's Symposium on Digital Ethics.

Executive producer and host of MTV’s “Catfish” Nev Schulman spoke on ethics and the dilemmas of dating in today’s digital world at Loyola’s Water Tower Campus Friday, drawing in a full crowd.

Nearly 250 guests including Loyola students, professors and members of the public attended the Q&A session, according to the School of Communication (SOC) events coordinator, Genevieve Buthod. SOC Dean Don Heider hosted the session as part of the university’s seventh annual Symposium on Digital Ethics. Heider founded the Center for Digital Ethics and Policy in 2010, which was created “in an effort to foster more dialogue, research and guidelines regarding ethical behavior in online and digital environments,” according to the center’s website.

During the session, Schulman spoke about the accessibility of social media and how we use it to boost our self-esteem dependent on the amount of “likes” the images we post receive. Schulman said we’ve built this culture of dishonesty through our self-portrayals on social media.

“What is our genuine self? If we present it and it’s disliked, am I going to be shamed?” Schulman said.

Schulman argued this low self-esteem was one of the reasons “catfishing,” the concept of presenting a fake persona in an online relationship, has gotten so big. In addition to searching for love online to find people who share your same interest and passions, Schulman said the concept of online dating has become normal, or almost expected.

“The shame that used to come with dating online is almost gone,” Schulman said.

Socializing or flirting in person has become weird or unexpected, Schulman said, because culture is shifting toward online communication as a way of initiating dating before actually spending time together in person.

Despite the show’s premise of helping those who are in relationships discover whether or not they have been catfished, Schulman said that deceptiveness of the concept is complex.

“Nobody gets catfished,” Schulman said. “Each side is almost as guilty as the other in wanting and playing along with the whole charade.”

Shannon Oltmann, an assistant professor in the University of Kentucky’s School of Information Science, was also a speaker at the symposium. Oltmann said that although she was unfamiliar with Schulman before the Q&A, she wanted to know more about his 2010 documentary that sparked the inspiration for the MTV show.

“Well, I’m really interested in the documentary because that seems like it really captured his original purpose and sort of mission,” Oltmann said. “But I thought it was a really interesting contribution to the idea of digital ethics and looking at different aspects of ethics.”  

When Heider asked Schulman what the biggest ethical dilemma is that the producer faces in making the show, Schulman said it has to do with accepting the matter that the person who is being catfished is going to get hurt.

“It’s always the moment where we [the producers] feel bad … like oh man, this person’s about to get their heart broken,” Schulman said.

While some students attended the program for class credit, Loyola senior Athena Contis is a fan of Schulman’s show and attended the session to hear more about his perspective of the world of online dating.

“I really enjoyed the talk,” the 21-year-old ad/PR major said. “Nev was very funny and had a lot to say about the catfish phenomena. It was really cool to hear his experiences on the show as well.”

Sam Shakir, a junior double majoring in communication studies and marketing, came because the program was a class requirement, but he didn’t expect Schulman to hold his attention.

“Nev’s Q&A was kind of interesting,” Shakir, 21, said. “He was a lot more personable than I was imagining he was. When I first came in here, I kind of actively didn’t want to go into his Q&A because I kind of thought that he would be very stereotypical and kind of stale as a character, but you know, as the Q&A went on more and more I … learned more about him.”

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