From Thirst Trap to Catfish

· Updated on May 28, 2018

Fake accounts on Twitter are a relatively unremarkable phenomenon.

Whether you’re dealing withstan accountsorTrump eggs, anonymity is a staple of the social media site. But this Tuesday, Gay Twitter collectively woke up to a revelation about a fake account that left them, well shook. Thenow deleted account went by the handle @ParksDenton, and over the course of several months managed to convince folks he was the real deal. Screenshots and responses to now deleted posts reveal Denton shared selfies, trashed the Trump family, and posted generally complementary stuff about queer users.

The account even reportedly slid into a few folks’ DMs to flirt (read: request nudes).So why is this such a big deal? It’s partly due to the fact that in a post-Catfish era we like think we’re savvy enough to spot a fake and quick to poke fun at those who seem gullible enough to fall for it.

The loosely affiliated accounts informally known as Gay Twitter form a circle of support that often mimics familial dynamics. Despite the inherent performativity of social media, something about infiltrating that circle under a false identity felt predatory.

Tom Zohar, a Twitter user followed by Denton, describes Gay Twitter as “a community of likeminded people who make each other laugh and stroke each other’s egos” which, at its worst, can become a competition for attention.

So when a “generic hot guy” like Denton started following Zohar, it didn’t seem all that strange. Zohar says he didn’t follow back, “because the picture looked doctored to me.”

When I spoke to Zohar today, he was surprised to learn the photo wasn’t doctored. Permit me a mustache twirl, because the plot thickens.
Parks Denton is real or at least, the photo he started using over the last few months is real.

Denton started following me on Twitter September 5, a day before the account disappeared. The photo seemed familiar so I clicked on the account. It looked like someone I’d talked to on a dating app about two years ago; we’d met a a couple of times in person and I didn’t remember his name being Parks (or any plural noun, for that matter).

I searched for the guy on Facebook. His name was not, in fact, Parks when we spoke he asked not to be identified by his legal name, so let’s call him “Sam.”

The first time Sam heard about his Gay Twitter doppelganger he was on an entirely different app. “I found out that he was using my pictures when someone on Grindr accused me of being fake,” Sam says. “The strangest feeling was that, in a way, they were stalking me. He uploaded the most recent photo almost immediately from my Instagram.”

On September 5, Sam made a post about Parks Denton, asking friends to report the user for pretending to be Sam (or at least a version of Sam named Parks). Some of Sam’s friends did:

Dara*says that because Sam doesn’t have a Twitter account, she wanted to speak up on his behalf. “I just thought it was really creepy, obviously deceptive, and potentially dangerous for this stranger to go masquerading around as my friend,” she said. She reported the account to Twitter, but suspects the user deleted it before the company could take action.

After Parks Denton’s disappearance, people started putting the pieces together.

A few folks were gently mocked for thirsting after@parksdenton.

Others claimed they knew something seemed suspicious.

Ryan Houlihan says it was Denton’s fawning over a few Twitter accounts that disarmed any reservation about his authenticity. “Early on Parks was just liking most of my tweets and usually commenting back,” Houlihan told me. “Just a few days ago he posted on Sarahah that myself, Corey Kindberg, and John Ersing were his favorite people on Twitter. Who wouldn’t be flattered by that? He fed into the narcissism and need to connect that Twitter is built on.”

That’s why catfishing has a particular sting when you belong to the queer community. Many LGBTQ individuals come online to create networks of support they might not be able to find in “real life.” This means queer people might sometimes withhold identifying information for fear of violence or abuse; and for that reason, other queer people will respect that anonymity without question. But when that trust is exploited as it was when Nico Hines outed queer Olympians by posing as a gay man on Grindr, or when two Houston men were lured to their death by a fake profile the impact extends beyond embarrassment.

“There’s a lot of double identities, lying, and subterfuge built into queerness by necessity,” says Houlihan. “What’s interesting is that Gay Twitter sometimes feels like coming out into the light of day; we’re making public posts about all the things we’d probably never mention to our families or coworkers – comfortable that we’re in the midst of an internet pride parade.” The revelation that a member of that parade might’ve been playing the long con feels like a violation of trust, or safety, for plenty of queer folks on Twitter.

That’s to say nothing of the impact Parks Denton had on Sam, whose face was quickly plastered all over the internet as the posterboy for thirsty catfishing. While screenshots and archival searches reveal Denton used several photos over his time on Twitter, the proverbial shit hit the fan while Denton was using Sam’s photo.

“It was a violation but at the same time it made me stop and think about why this would happen,” Sam said. “Hopefully this person finds a way to feel secure in themselves.”

Despite Gay Twitter’s navel gazing over over our predictable thirst (andour apparent affinity for white men with visible jawlines), I don’t think there’s a “lesson” here. This can’t become a cautionary tale about trusting in strangers or sending nudes because the moment we moralize, slut-shame, and victim-blame those who Parks Denton exploited for attention, the more we reinforce the stigmas that bring people to Gay Twitter in the first place.Part of me hopes the “real” Parks Denton gets found out and publicly dragged, if only because I’m petty and love a good sequel. But a part of me wonders if the person behind Parks Denton, like many of us on Gay Twitter, just wanted to feel seen for a little bit.

I can’t say for sure either way, I don’t know her.

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