Even if you know nothing about sports (ME!), you are now familiar with the name Manti Te’o, linebacker for Notre Dame. Yesterday, Deadspin published a piece exposing Te’o's girlfriend’s death as a hoax. Not just her death, but her existence. Lennay Kekua was never born, never attended Stanford, never got in a serious car wreck, and never died from leukemia. If those last few sentences sounded complicated, that’s because this story is a clusterfuck.
To give the most cursory of summaries, Deadspin discovered what every other mainstream news outlet — like ESPN and Sports Illustrated – should have: that Manti Te’o got “Catfished.” I refer to the 2010 documentary “Catfish” and subsequent MTV series about people who are bamboozled into having relationships with people on the internet who turn out to be fictional. To add another layer of complexity to this story, it’s unclear whether Te’o was “Catfished” without his knowledge or whether he was in on the hoax. And if he was an orchestrator of the hoax, what was his motivation? Was the sob story — that his grandmother and girlfriend died on the same day — concocted to aid in his question for the Heisman? Or did he make up a nearly year-long romantic relationship to cover for the fact that he’s really gay? Of course, there’s always the possibility that he is a serious sociopath.
But for the sake of argument, let’s give him the benefit of the doubt for a moment and assume that he was “Catfished” without his knowledge as he claims. This actually happens more than one would think. And there are some simple ways to avoid being a victim of “Catfishing.” Our tips after the jump.
1. Do not wait to meet them. News reports had Manti Te’o claiming to have “met” Lennay Kekua after a game and to have spent time with her in Hawaii. That never happened and in their press conference yesterday, Notre Dame reps say Te’o's interactions with Kekua were conducted only online and the two never met in person. (Why Te’o lied about having met her in person remains to be seen.) But you can nip a “Catfish” situation in the bud by insisting on a meeting sooner rather than later. (I recommend this for online dating, too.) First and foremost, because it’s important to know if you have chemistry with someone in person, but also to confirm that they exist. Even if the person lives far away, arrange a meeting for as soon as possible. If that’s a far ways off, avoid getting in deep with the shmoopy stuff — texts, phone calls, emails — until you’ve met them.
2. Skype. The next best thing to an in-person meeting is a virtual in-person meeting. Sure, you can still get fleeced this way. It’s possible, but it requires a lot more effort, like producing a person that looks like the pictures you’ve seen online. If the person you’re getting to know makes excuses as to why a Skype session can’t happen, cut off contact … there’s something Catfish-y there.
3. Internet stalking. For once, use your internet stalking skills for good! If this person is real, they will have a virtual footprint you can track. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Tumblr. An article they wrote, a record of their college graduation, dammit, a MySpace from back in the day. For advanced internet stalking, there is a thing called reverse image search in Google. You can use that to find out if the picture on their Facebook profile exists other places. It’s pretty much the “tool” that the “Catfish” dudes use on their show. If the person you’re investigating has no internet presence, chances are something is up.
4. Look for red flags on social media. Once you’ve sufficiently stalked them, check their social media profiles with a fine tooth comb. Do they have multiple friends and followers? Do they have extensive photos in social situations? With family? On trips? By that I mean, do they only have head shots or modeling shots on their profile? Do they only have more than one regular commenter on Facebbok? You know what a normal social media profile looks like, so if you see anything “off,” take heed.
5. Verify. If peace of mind is what you’re looking for, you can call up their place of work or their former high school or college and pretend to be a potential employer doing a background check. This is actually easier than you think it would be. And if you’re really, really serious about verifying, you can get a background check online for like, $20, which is totally worth it if you’re thinking about getting involved with someone you’ve yet to meet in person.