Shannon Keith works on ‘catfishing’ documentary, promotes new legislation
Shannon C. Keith has netted herself a catfish, but not the kind that swims and makes for a tasty deep fry. Rather, Keith caught an online opportunist with a history of exploiting others, and she’s turned her research into a documentary.
Keith traveled across the country following the exploits of serial “catfish” Jackie Overton to make her film “Hook Line N’ Sinker.” She intends for the documentary to elaborate on a conversation about a national epidemic and serve as a learning tool for her students.
“Catfish” is a term made popular by the 2010 Nev Schulman documentary of the same name, and it refers to a person who uses a false identity to deceive and leverage others.
Keith is a professor of communication at the University of Scranton and Keystone College. Her previous film titles include “Rocky Glen Park” and “Return to Rocky Glen.” She was moved to begin research on catfishing after seeing Schulman’s documentary and the victimization of Meri Brown on TLC’s “Sister Wives.”
“That really just looked at what happens when somebody’s heart is broken,” Keith said of “Catfish.” “As somebody who teaches communication, I felt there was more of the conversation to be held.”
Keith took to Facebook and Twitter and was appalled by the negativity directed at Meri Brown, who was regularly blamed for the deception she suffered at the hands of Overton.
Overton created the persona “Sam Cooper,” a handsome, wealthy Chicago businessman, and wooed Brown using this digital facade. She also infiltrated Brown’s life by pretending to be Cooper’s friend “Lindsay Jackson.”
After Brown and “Jackson” met at Disneyland in California, Overton used the “Cooper” profile to release Brown’s voice mails to the public, write an e-book about the affair and continue harassment and extortion of the Brown family.
Keith started an Idiegogo page to fund the effort by her and FactMonkey productions partner Vic Urben, and spread awareness of the project. She also learned that the first anti-catfishing law of its kind was in place in Overton’s home state of Oklahoma, and she began to bait the fish.
“When word spread that I was doing this documentary, Jackie Overton went nuts and started her attacks on me,” Keith said. “She’s doing everything I intended for her to do.”
Under representative J.P. Jordan’s bill, each individual offense of catfishing would cost the offender $500, and failure to pay fines would result in jail time.
Keith travelled to Las Vegas, California, Chicago, Oklahoma and Ohio to prove Overton’s characters false, interview Jordan and private investigator Brad Allen and meet past victims of Overton’s.
She also enlisted the knowledge of Vassar Ph.D and curator of iPredator.com Michael Nuccitelli and the experiences of child actress Addy Miller.
Miller, known most as the little girl zombie killed in the pilot episode of “Walking Dead,” had her image stolen at age 8 by an online predator trying to lure other children. Keith met Miller and mother Jaime when she hosted the Infect Scranton zombie conventions from 2012 to 2014.
“When I was thinking about this project, I instantly thought of what Jaime went through to try to protect Addy,” Keith said. “It was a perfect fit.”
Keith has landed in the tabloids OK Magazine and In Touch Weekly, because of her back-and-forths with Overton. She plans to finish the documentary in August and have an hour-long version ready to air on PBS in the fall with an extended version available in DVD form.
Beyond plans to finish “Hook, Line N’ Sinker,” Keith is working with state representative Sid Michaels Kavulich, D-Taylor, to bring Jordan’s legislation to Pennsylvania. Kavulich is moving forward with the bill and seeking a co-sponsor.
“Not only am I creating a film to expand on the conversation presented in 2010 in ‘Catfish,’ I am bringing about social change,” Keith said. “And it’s very exciting.”
Reach Matt Mattei at 570-991-6651 or Twitter @TLArts