The TV Show That Predicted America’s Lonely, Disorienting Digital Future


This is Danny. He fell in love with a woman he’d met online. When he saw her photo, he called it love at first sight.

He and Rosa talked on the phone daily for months and exchanged reams of texts in Spanglish. They bonded over being Puerto Rican.

“You’re so funny, Daddy,” she once texted him. “You’re so sexy, my love,” Danny replied. Though they’d never met, he was making big plans: marriage and family.

When the red flags started to pile up, Danny contacted “Catfish,” on MTV, for help. The truth was far from what he’d hoped. Rosa was secretly Jose.

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The TV Show That Predicted America’s Lonely, Disorienting Digital Future

Since its first episode aired in 2012, “Catfish: The TV Show” has held up a mirror to our online lives, reflecting how we present ourselves and make sense of love, lust, trust, companionship and loneliness in an increasingly digital world. Each episode unfolds like a detective show, with the host Nev Schulman summoned to untangle truth from lies, to take relationships that exist only on computers and phones and drag them into our three-dimensional reality.

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The saga of Danny and Jose, which aired in 2017, is emblematic of the deception, dashed hopes and complicated situations regularly featured on the show.

Danny contacted “Catfish” for help, believing Rosa had moved from Connecticut to Orlando, where he lived, but still would not meet him. Rosa had warned Danny that she had anger issues, in part because she had been molested as a child. When meeting with Schulman and his co-host Max Joseph, Danny said he wanted to help her by bringing more faith into her life. “I think I could make her a better person,” he said. “We plan to have a family.”

In their research, Schulman and Joseph quickly discovered the so-called mask, meaning the unwitting person whose photos had been sent to Danny: a woman named Natalie. But Rosa’s real identity was harder to pin down. “This is the weirdest thing that’s ever happened to me,” Danny said when shown the evidence. “I never had anybody send me fake pictures.”

Schulman called Rosa to inform her that Danny was now aware she’d lied about the photos. Though combative, she agreed to meet in Connecticut. It became clear that she had never moved.

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