Thinky Post: Catfishing and Desi Communities inspired by the Sweet Bobby Podcast

I just listened to the most FASCINATING podcast, “Sweet Bobby”. If podcasts are your thing, I suggest pausing and not reading on until you listen to it. If podcasts aren’t your thing, no worries! I’m gonna summarize it below.

This is a true story. A young woman part of the very specific British Punjabi Sikh Kenya immigrant community (that is Sikhs who live in England but were previously living in Kenya) is friended on Facebook by someone vaguely connected with her family. They drift in and out of contact for years, his life is filled with drama, medical emergencies, a marriage falling apart, and so on. Eventually he confesses his love for her and she, largely out of guilt because he is dying, agrees to start a long distance relationship. Soon this relationship becomes all encompassing, she cannot be away from her phone for more than 5 minutes without getting messages asking what she is doing and who she is with. She stops going out with friends because it makes her boyfriend jealous. She quits her job because he doesn’t want her working. Her self-esteem is devastated, he is constantly telling her that she isn’t good enough, isn’t worthy of him. And every time she tries to break free, he has a medical emergency and his relatives call her and tell her it is her fault, that her break up with him almost killed him. She loses weight, loses jobs, her whole life slowly falls apart and becomes fully focused on this one person who controls her completely. And then in the end, learns it is all a scam. Not only that, it is an 8 year scam perpetrated on her by her ten years younger female cousin, starting when the cousin was only 17.

Sweet Bobby – Podcast – Podtail

Already I find so many interesting things here. The first thing is the reality that the internet IS real now. This isn’t catfishing like getting an email from a friend saying “send me a money order”. This is a legitimate online connection, a friend of a friend (her cousin stole the identity of a real person). And to make the fraud more “real”, her cousin created multiple further fake identities, a whole world of people with separate facebook accounts and images and so on who all further validated this person. The assumption is no longer “everyone on the internet is lying and/or anonymous”. The assumption is “everyone on the internet is living their real life, because real life IS online”. Employers are going to look for an online trace of you when considering you for a job, new friends will search for you, and you will use your online identity in the real world too. Something as simple as, I have a cousin who works at a climbing gym. She is a climber in real life. Her online photos of her climbing various things are part of what supports her professional life. Everyone has something like that. Your volunteer work, your crafting hobby, your writing, it’s all part of your online presence. In this case, the victim of the fraud worked in PR and on weekends hosted a local Bhangra music radio show. Her Facebook presence was a vital part of both those worlds.

This is not a story of “oh you foolish victim”, this is a story of “wow, what a dedicated evil genius criminal”. It’s really HARD to fake someone out on the internet at this point, you have to be super dedicated to make it work.

Ali Zafar: You will hardly find someone like Ranveer Singh | Hindi Movie  News - Times of India
Remember the Ali Zafar false accusations? That involved one public accusation, and several fake social media accounts supporting it. It’s a lot of work!

Let’s look at DCIB, for instance. If you are a “lurker” or new here, I will reassure you, we are all real people. When I started blogging, I tried to be “anonymous” for a while. And then I thought, “this is silly”. So I make my real name available, my real resume, my real home, my real everything. It only takes ten minutes of research to tie almost anyone back to their real world identity from online. And if takes more than ten minutes, the response is likely to be suspicion of the online identity, that is a person who is lying about something in their life. All of my regular commentators, they are real people. I send them Christmas cards to real addresses, and I’ve met almost all of them in real life too. I also get real life photos, real life links to real life events, all that stuff. And I think this is the norm online now? People don’t bother trying to hide, not really. And honestly, I think of my DCIB friends who I happen to have met online as just as close to me as my friends who I first met in the “real world” and now communicate with online. I hadn’t really thought about it in that way until heard this story, of someone who was faked not through an anonymous simple connection, but an elaborate lengthy fraud. That’s what it has to be now, an elaborate lengthy fraud, online anonymity doesn’t exist.

The other thing I find interesting is the effect of being part of this very specific community. She trusted “Bobby” a little more because he was part of her tiny closely connected community. There was a sense of artificial connection. He was “one of us”. This is how minority and/or immigrant communities survive, trusting and supporting each other so that they all rise together. And on the other hand, she found it a little more believable that he trusted her. If he sent a message saying “I feel like you are the only one who understands me”, it could actually be true! Same age, part of the same tiny community, and also both successful outside of the community, part of the larger culture and struggling to balance it.

This is all very familiar from movies, right? Including the fraud aspect. I’m thinking of something like Mubarakan where this small community was interwoven constantly through friendships and family, and that allowed “love fraud” to flourish. You already know everything about the other person and their family without needing to research it, and everything about the role you are supposed to play. Most of the time this sort of fraud in real life would only have a lessor effect. Say, someone lying about their age/income/background/whatever in order to make an engagement happen. But you know the lie you are supposed to make, right? Because everyone has the same context. And that’s what happened here. Saying “my marriage is falling apart, I’m ashamed, I don’t know what to do, I can’t talk to anyone about it” has an immediate effect on the target because she knows the context of that.

Okay, now guess what happened when it came out that the now-28 year old very intelligent successful young woman had been scamming her now-38 year old cousin whose career and whole life had fallen apart because of the scam?

Yes, that’s right, the family was VERY concerned about covering it all up for the sake of their Honor. The cousin’s father came to them and asked them not to be upset because of his high blood pressure (also a filmi thing). Meanwhile, the victim’s father was very sad for the family of the cousin, her grandfather and father, because they must be so ashamed of what she has done. No sympathy for his own daughter, no anger at the young cousin. The young cousin is now engaged and the shining pride of the community, her life has continued unaffected, she seems to feel no guilt or shame about her actions. The victim is in hiding, afraid to go to community events because she can’t face seeing the cousin.

Part of this is just sociopathic behavior, right? The victim is a normal healthy person and therefore feels emotion about this whole thing. When she found out the truth, she collapsed to the floor, and then vomited. Which is actually a normal reaction to learning a 17 year old girl had been torturing her for ten years. Meanwhile, the probably sociopathic cousin doesn’t even say “I’m sorry”. Seemed to have no awareness of how extreme her behavior was.

But it is sociopathic behavior taking advantage of an unfair society. So long as she was proper, successful, outwardly “good”, her family and society would support her. Because she is presenting a face to the world that fits what they want. Even though she is in the wrong, even though everyone KNOWS she is in the wrong, the key is to avoid embarrassment. It is the victims fault for going to the police, for making a “fuss”, and now for participating in this podcast.

Kerala actor Dileep under the scanner again, special team formed to  investigate assault case | South-indian – Gulf News

That’s very familiar from the Indian film industry, isn’t it? It’s what’s going on in Kerala right now. The anger goes first towards the person who breaks the conspiracy of silence, to the person who makes us “look bad” to outsiders. Not to the person who actually did the offense. I don’t think this is unique to the Indian community by any means. But it is specific to a particular kind of community. High enough that they have a reputation to protect, but low enough that they are still worried about protecting that reputation. Keep messy disputes within the family, don’t tear people down, don’t go public. I’m not going to say whether or not someone should go public with internal issues from those communities, I’m not qualified. But I think I can say that I believe when someone DOES go public, it is important to put the blame on the perpetrator of the crime for “shaming” the community, not on the victim for going public. Does that make sense?

And then there’s the final thing to discuss which the podcast itself can’t answer, and maybe no one can answer. Why would a 17 year old quite proper scholastically successful young woman start an online scam against her decade older cousin? Why would she slowly build this into an emotionally abusive relationship, watching in real life as her cousin’s life fell apart in every way while continuing the online abuse? Why would she write love letters, have all night whispered phone calls, dedicate what must have been the majority of her time into keeping this scam going?

Is it jealousy, that she wanted to tear down the older cousin she admired and enjoyed watching her fall in real life as she succeeded? Was it love, a twisted form of love that she felt she could only express through a fake online presence and which frustration eventually caused to become abusive? Or was it pure sociopathic enjoyment? She started on a whim and kept going because she liked it, she liked causing constant emotional breakdowns and misery through her elaborate games?

Tough to remain 'headstrong' in filmdom: Kangana Ranaut Interview
Just gonna leave this here

There is only one version of this that has any relevance to their social situation. If it was a twisted form of love, if this young woman had homosexual feelings for her cousin, then there would be no acceptable way for her to process them within the context of the Punjabi Sikh Kenyan British community. In that case, the unhealthy repression and self-hatred could, MAYBE, explain how this started.

I don’t know, it’s just a WEIRD story. And I wanted to talk about it with y’all and see what you thought about these questions I ended up with:

  1. Do we think of online people as anonymous any more? Or has the real world and the online world fully merged? To put it simply, do you think of your DCIB friends as anonymous typers, or as real people whose lives you know in detail?
  2. How does this story relate to the very small specific British Sikh community that we have seen represented many times in films?
  3. Do you have ANY idea why a 17 year old girl would start this, and then keep it going through her real life college, career, success, and finally romance and engagement?
  4. Any other questions that occur to you for us to talk about!

17 thoughts on “Thinky Post: Catfishing and Desi Communities inspired by the Sweet Bobby Podcast

    • I’m so glad I’m not the only one who was shocked!!! Even the catfishing and/or abusive relationship experts they spoke to on the podcast were like “this is the craziest story I have ever heard, and I have heard a lot of them”

      On Sun, Jan 16, 2022 at 10:14 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  1. Checking your progress? Trying to see when you can start developing that cancer that all of us need to pitch in to help cure? ;-p

    Okay, posts like this tend to make me just the tiniest bit paranoid. Because I have actually not met any of you in person. (Though I don’t feel like that would make much of a difference – unless you do really look like my cousin.) I’m reasonably sure that you’re not just a computer program, because I’ve received that printed Christmas card, with an address sticker and everything. But how am I to tell that any of your pictures are real? The thing with online communication is that it’s easier to fake. You can take your time crafting the perfect post tailored to your victim, and you don’t even need to be a good actor to make them believe it.

    I used to feel safe in the knowledge that I don’t own enough to justify such an elaborate scam on me, but I guess I failed to take into account the motive of pure sociopathy – as would, probably, most non-sociopaths.

    Which brings me back to “Bobby”’s girlfriend. I wonder how much of a role their shared background played in her trust of “him”. Because that’s the one thing that was real. Her cousin did share that background. And I’m not sure someone could fake that – not on top of living their own real life with their own culture and interests.

    Actually, that’s also the thing I’m really sure of with you: Even if you were a sociopath out to hurt us, your interest in Indian film is real. You don’t amass that kind of knowledge otherwise. So, you know, you’re definitely a real person.

    Actually, you’d feel just as real to me if you were using a pseudonym. I do because every once in a while I remember that it’s not just the regular commenters reading our posts. On the internet, anyone can.

    Liked by 2 people

    • That’s it, I’m visiting Germany!!!! I have to prove to you that I’m a real person!!!!

      I think we just have to hope that most sociopaths aren’t that targeted. I am sure we’ve all heard/read the stories of bloggers who tell elaborate “I’m dying of cancer” stories in order to get money and emotional support. But they aren’t wanting it from just one person, they have dozens or even hundreds on the hook with them. So long as you just don’t get sucked in to a public blog that uses emotional drama to keep you reading and/or demands money, you can be safe. The idea of someone you know targeting you for emotional torment online, and only you, is terrifying.

      That shared background is also what I found fascinating. Especially as relates to patriarchy. In the final episode of the show, the girlfriend and the reporter talk to her father. He just refuses to consider the feelings of his daughter as equal to the feelings of the men involved, the father and grandfather of the cousin. And what I found important was that the girlfriend casually forgave her father for that attitude, accepted it. So if you are raised to constantly consider men over women, and men more important than women, men wiser, men more sensitive, and so on and so forth, it would be that much easier to forgive and accept the abusive behavior of your online boyfriend. And to believe whatever your boyfriend says. The choice to present herself as a traditional Sikh man (including turban), who is also a cardiologist, and the oldest son of his family, was something the cousin must have done on purpose. She knew this would be the persona the girlfriend would be most forgiving of and most trusting.

      Yes! I do truly love these movies! And the way I analyze them and which ones I choose to like accurately reflects my personal values. So starting from that, you can accept that you DO know me. And actually, we can accept that we know everyone here. If you are a regular, it means you are interested in female based storylines that are anti-patriarchy. So you could still be a 50 year old man pretending to be a college student, but the values you present are perhaps even more true to what you feel than what you are comfortable revealing as a 50 year old man.

      Also, most of all, I choose to live in a world where when someone says “I just brought my daughter home!” she is telling the truth and I can be happy 🙂 What’s the harm?

      On Mon, Jan 17, 2022 at 4:09 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  2. This is shocking and sad! Your last question is the first one that popped up in my mind that why would anyone do that?? The cousin didn’t gain anything out of it, except emotional satisfaction from manipulating someone which puts her firmly in psychopathic category. Or maybe closeted homosexuality as you said. Whatever the reason is, at the least she should be made to go through mental analysis because she is a threat to society no matter what the current legal situation says.

    I have many questions but maybe I shouldn’t ask until I’ve listened to the podcast. They’re all in the vein of (and I’m aware this could come off as victim-blaming), was there really nothing one could do to prevent this from escalating to this extent? Things like not seeing the person you’re talking to for eight years, or any of the dozens of fake acquaintances, even on video, are some major red-flags which I cannot imagine myself brushing off! I don’t know, maybe I’m missing something.

    To answer your question, I do think of DCIB people as real, because there is nothing to gain by lying. I try to apply the same perspective to other online platforms as well. The other question that occurs is tied to my previous question, what sort of insight does this provide into the mindset of someone willing to carry on what she believes is a romantic relationship without ever seeing the partner? There are movies which romanticize this kind of plot, but I’m pretty sure very few people would do it in real life.

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    • In the final episode, they talked about the legal possibilities. The issue is that the police first looked at it as online fraud and identity theft. And she did nothing criminal from that side of things. No sexual photos requested, minimal money, nothing “illegal”. But one of the legal experts said this isn’t a crime of fraud, but a crime of abuse. The way the relationship developed and where it ended was textbook coercive control and emotional abuse. Which is really sick! So her crime, and what she was getting enjoyment of, was being in control of an abusive relationship. And of course, yes, this should be treated as a problem! Which gets into the whole “public face” part of this. Her family is refusing to acknowledge a problem, because she is a “good” daughter and has a good job and now has a wonderful engagement to a proper man. It’s easier to just ignore the problem so long as it’s not visible, so no one is talking about it and she is getting no help. And I suspect that’s why she turned online for her abuse? She can create this whole false identity and enjoy tormenting people, while still gaining approval from her real life family because it doesn’t affect the part of her life they care about. Although I do worry that her eventually husband is going to end up in a world of hurt that he is too ashamed to share with other people. Hopefully this podcast warns him off.

      I think one thing that is SO sick is that she had this close little sister like cousin who was verifying everything she saw online. Her cousin had “met” the boyfriend, her cousin knew his family, her cousin was her shoulder to cry on and support through this whole thing. That helped her believe it to begin with, and then the emotional abuse and control kept her trapped. Any time she questioned anything, she would be emotionally abused and broken down until she doubted her own doubts. I don’t know if catfishers are usually so dedicated that they will escalate and abuse instead of just letting someone go.

      And I think that end point also ties back to why this woman believed it. DCIB folks have nothing to gain, there’s no money changing hands (except for a few of you who donate to me but that’s to pay for the content I provide, nothing hidden). In this case, she wasn’t being asked for money or even sexually explicit content. There was nothing for this person to gain, no red flags along those lines. They could be lying, but why??? And who would lie to such an extent that they create OVER THIRTY separate fake social media accounts and personalities all contacting her? It just feels unbelievable. But I do think that all her fragilities were being played upon. For example, her father worked overseas. So she had spent her whole life having the most important man in her life be a voice on a telephone. The podcast doesn’t connect this, but I think that must be related, right? She’s set up to connect with men through long distance because that’s what she’s always known. Oh, and the last 3 years of the relationship were a constant pattern of planning to meet and then at the last minute a cancellation, so that kept her going. They were only seriously in a relationship for 3 years, and every six months there would be a “I’m coming to see you, here is my flight, here is my arrival date, here is my hotel” followed by a last minute “Medical emergency! Have to cancel!”

      On Mon, Jan 17, 2022 at 4:32 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I listened to the podcast. Now I’m like, forget how and why the victim got caught up in this, I want the cousin to suffer and pay for this. The fact that she doesn’t seem to grasp the magnitude of her abuse and also that she had done this previously makes me so angry. I was frustrated hearing her father’s words, he doesn’t seem to understand or maybe doesn’t want to understand how much this has hurt his daughter. He repeatedly says that this shouldn’t have happened, rather than directly blaming the cousin, refusing to accuse his relatives. The lack of support is sad all around.

        I was trying to think of movies featuring British Sikhs, and all the ones coming to mind are with British Punjabis. Except Mubarakan.

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        • Bend it Like Beckham is set in this exact community, the Kenya British Sikhs. But that’s the only one I can think of. All the other films go for a more general identity.

          I am so glad you listened to the podcast! And came out of it feeling like I did, that the cousin should suffer and it is HORRIBLE that she has no family support for this, even from her own father. The other thing I put together just recently which the podcast doesn’t hit hard enough, I think, is that she was OLD by the time it got bad. That is, old for a desi woman. She was in a relationship in her early 30s, then that ended, and then she was 35 when this relationship got serious, with a nice doctor Sikh her own age. She would have been primed her whole life to hold on to the possibility of a good marriage no matter what, and I am sure everyone around her was encouraging her to keep going, he’s a Doctor, you’re so old, try to be understanding. etc. etc. etc.

          On Tue, Jan 18, 2022 at 8:40 AM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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          Liked by 1 person

  3. As socal media allows you to be what you want to be, I take everything in stride.
    I love you and your writing the way you narrate it but I don’t reflect about the truth of what you tell about yourself…it’s absolutely YOUR prerogative to tell about you what you want to tell…and it is mine how to feel about it (which is – predominently – in a positive way!).
    I don’t feel with this woman who got – it may be true or not – duped in a cruel way…she made the choice to believe in a virtual person…she made the choice to shape her life around this person…she made the choice to become a victim of a person she never met…I think that says a lot about the weaknesses and insecurities of the abused (if ever what was told happened the way it was told).
    No, I wasn’t shocked…but it saddened me because it is just again a sign for the way Internet permets to act out the evil part that lives in every human being…the evil ghost in our machine… (I like Arthur Koestler)…yet, in any way, the atrocities people do to people in real life are without limits…and so are the things people do out of love – in a positive way…

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  4. So it’s never uncovered why the cousin did it? The victim doesn’t have any clue? I was sure it was because she dated a guy the cousin liked, or she killed her gold fish.

    This is another proof that a woman should never go against herself and never allow someone else to destroy her self-esteem. Nothing good happens once you cross this line. And yes, I know it’s complicated and not easy for those involved.

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    • YES! The cousin has never apologized or explained. One expert said with that kind of behavior, it’s possible she couldn’t really even say why herself. A few days after the truth came out, she sent the victim a message saying she really misses her and thinks of her as a big sister and hopes she is doing okay. Like, this was just some normal cousin fight thing! Not an insane 8 year torture.

      Yeah, the story made so much more sense to me once I put it in the frame of “abusive relationship” instead of “catfishing”. She worked on her pity and guilt to draw her in, and then there was the “sunk cost” feeling of, “I’m committed now, how can I admit to people this was a mistake?” And of course the embarrassment, not wanting to tell anyone else how she was being treated. And finally the sneaking sensation that she “deserved” to be treated this way, it was her fault for making her boyfriend unhappy.

      On Mon, Jan 17, 2022 at 2:38 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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  5. The young cousin put A LOT of time into this. A LOT. I worry about her future, and the future of her family. I hope it is closeted homosexuality, she could eventually come out and live a happy and fulfilling life without torturing people. But if she is psychotic? I got no plan out of that one. Of course she could be a psychotic Lesbian.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Did you listen to the podcast? One thing in it is that this is a pattern with her going back to early high school years. So it could be a Lesbian thing, that she started to feel feelings and sublimated them in weird online fake accounts. Or it could just be that she gets some kind of strange satisfaction from online emotional abuse. I’m kind of leaning towards the second, because she had a history of creating fake online accounts and elaborate fantasy stories.

      This is one of those situations where I hope reporting it changes it!!!! If her family is FORCED to see how the rest of the world sees her, maybe they will get her help of some kind. The podcast straight up uses real names.

      On Tue, Jan 18, 2022 at 2:39 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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      • I’ve lost faith that logic can convince people of anything they emotionally don’t want to believe. Her family doesn’t want to believe it, they won’t. Facts, a well listened to podcast – I bet it doesn’t change a thing. But I don’t know, maybe I will loose my bet, hopefully I’ll loose.

        Liked by 1 person

        • What kills me is, it’s not that they don’t want to believe because they love their daughter. It’s that they don’t want to believe because it would be inconvenient for their life. UGH!!! And yes, you are right, people will just not believe what they don’t want to believe. Sigh.

          But her father is INFURIATING. How can you look at your own child in such emotional distress and just say “this should not have happened” instead of getting angry?

          On Tue, Jan 18, 2022 at 11:14 PM dontcallitbollywood wrote:

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