Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax might be case of 'catfishing'

January 17, 2013 2:40:33 PM PST
Many questions remain about the girlfriend hoax involving Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o.

Te'o became famous after playing through his grief over the death of his grandmother and his girlfriend. But it turns out that the girlfriend never existed.

The term "catfishing" comes from a documentary in which someone is tricked into thinking they are in a relationship with someone, but it turns out that someone is a character created as a hoax. As you unravel a hoax , you start to see the red flags. In this case, all parties are under scrutiny.

The only image of Te'o Thursday was of the athlete in Florida preparing for the NFL Draft. The Notre Dame football star may be quiet Thursday, but he is the subject of much discussion.

"I was just blown away I had no idea this thing could happen on this school," said Notre Dame student Lou Shadley.

It seems some want to believe the statement from Notre Dame that Te'o was victim of an Internet hoax, that his alleged late girlfriend wasn't really a person but a fictitious character online.

These hoaxes have come to be known as catfishing.

"There probably should have been some fact checking on this quite a while ago," said Illinois Institute of Technology professor Carly Kocurek.

Kocurek says, while there may be some lured into fictitious online relationships, in this case it may be the public lured into the fiction.

"I feel like most college students would not -- for a year -- maintain a relationship with someone they never met," Kocurek said. "That's a long time."

ESPN legal analyst Lester Munson doesn't believe Te'o was completely innocent. Munson goes further, saying he is also suspicious of Notre Dame's part.

"Officials of big-time football universities have the capacity to misrepresent things," Munson said. "The athletic director has made a powerful argument that Te'o is the victim of a hoax. I don't accept it. I don't believe it for one second."

In typical catfishing cases, Professor Kocurek says, you often see the online character have a series of dramatic situations. She says that's a red flag.

Kocurek suggests doing a basic online search for the person as "real" people have some footprint.

In Te'os case, eventually, a journalist did search for Te'o's alleged girlfriend. That's how this hoax began to unravel. But it is still unclear who perpetuated the hoax and how the hoax was able to go on so long.