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Manti Te'o, Dead Girlfriends, Catfishing And What This Means For All Of Us

I wasn’t planning on writing about the Manti Te'o/dead girlfriend saga. In fact, full disclosure requires me to tell you that before this story broke, I had no clue who Te'o was, let alone that he played football at Notre Dame. And no, this isn’t because I’m not a college football fan. As a Penn State graduate, I’m still smarting from my school’s own rather strange (and far more tragic) football-related story. Because of this, I mostly turned the sport off last fall. And catfishing? I had never heard of the concept until a co-worker told me about it earlier this week. With those clarification points out of the way, let us discuss Te'o and why this saga is important to mobile device owners. As a quick review, Te'o is the Heisman Trophy runner-up who helped lead Notre Dame to their first national championship game in football in many years. In addition to his great game-play during the regular season last fall, Te'o also made news (very often, in fact) because of his alleged and tragic love life. On Sept. 11, 2012, Te'o said that he lost both his grandmother and girlfriend within the span of one day. It was the girlfriend dying part that became the huge story. While this story was first largely confined to sports circles, as Notre Dame continued their magical season, the general press also began covering it. [caption id="attachment_375201" align="aligncenter" width="620"]Manti Te'o Manti Te'o[/caption] Except that the girlfriend and her death were made up. Indeed, Te'o’s grandmother did die on that September day. However, Lennay Kekua, the Stanford student who was advertised as Te'o’s girlfriend, was apparently a  hoax, as Deadspin first uncovered. Currently, much of the national press is now trying to figure out whether Te'o was part of the hoax, or like Notre Dame claims, was a victim. This brings us to why this is also a mobile story, and why we're discussing it on a iOS-focused site. Much of the Te'o-Kekua story focuses on social networking’s dirty little secret. Specifically, just how easy it is for someone to create a profile and become someone who they are not. The in vogue term for this has become catfishing, which got its origins from the 2009 documentary, “Catfish,” and subsequent MTV series. As I prepared for this report, I found it quite easy to create bogus profiles on both Twitter and Facebook. Once I did, I found photos of what many would consider beautiful people to add to the new profiles. This was all done courtesy of emails that I created for free online. To do so, I used the following services: Apple’s iCloud, Microsoft’s Outlook, and Google’s Gmail. Take a look at one of my fake Twitter profiles: [caption id="attachment_375192" align="aligncenter" width="528"]Totally fake, Teo Totally fake, Te'o[/caption] If I wanted to, and I do not, I could use these profiles to initiate conversations with anyone online. From there, who knows what could happen. Have I ever been catfished? Not to the degree in which Te'o apparently was. However, over the years I have ”met” one or two people online that did suddenly disappear without warning. Plus, before my marriage, I used a few times to find people to date. My wife (now, ex-wife) and I, however, didn’t meet online. It should be noted that this was before Twitter and Facebook arrived, which has made it easier for people to create bogus profiles. And since my divorce, I have sworn off finding romance online. Instead, I’ve attempted to go old-school in this regard. [caption id="attachment_375203" align="aligncenter" width="635"]The Not So Dead Girlfriend, Te'o The Not So Dead Girlfriend, Te'o[/caption] So how can you know for sure you are not getting catfished? For one, don’t get into this type of a situation in the first place. In other words, don’t use Twitter to find people to fall in love with. Second, keep online discussions with strangers as formal as possible. If you are really feeling a connection with someone, talk to them on the phone early and often. In other words, the quicker the communication moves beyond the Internet, the better. Finally, and this comes highly recommended: watch "Catfish." What a fantastic (and timely) movie that is both funny, and at times, extremely sad. But it also does a great job of explaining what catfishing is and how to avoid it. Take a look at the film's original trailer:

For more on the ongoing Te'o saga, I strongly suggest reading Deadspin’s original story and their subsequent updates. And, I'll remind you one final time that Sarah Wonderful is a fake!