What becomes of the brokenhearted when they are 'catfished' online?

It’s devastating when the person you’ve fallen in love with turns out to be unreal

There was a period in my life when I watched a lot of Catfish. Signed off work, I’d lie on the sofa mid-afternoon and watch people lie from their sofas in the American midwest. It’s an MTV reality show following the trails of suspicious lovers. Someone calls the presenter, Nev, and says: “The girl I’m in love with, maybe she doesn’t exist.” Nev performs some science on their text messages, does a Google image search, drives a while and ends up in a dusty suburb crippled by the closure of an abattoir, on the doorstep of a hoaxer, a teenage boy half delighted finally to be noticed.

There have been five series, each with up to 20 episodes, with another series premiering this week. So that’s 100 hearts broken online right there, with 20 more about to air; 100 people who have fallen in love with strangers they’ve only spoken to in emojis, who would totally visit but have a disorder that makes them melt in daylight, who have broken webcams, or Nokia 3210s, or another perfectly valid reason for not being real. It’s not just on TV. It’s happening across the world, every day, right now.

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Alex Vidal