Catfishing Online Examined As Manti Te’o Hoax Girlfriend Perplexes Web

“Catfishing” online has come to the forefront as the strange Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax captivates the web, and while the exact responsible hoaxer has yet to be fingered — many have theorized Te’o perpetuated the hoax rather than was victimized by it — the phenomenon of internet relationship tricksters is an issue all its own.

In the wake of the Te’o girlfriend hoax, Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick cited catfishing online (so named after a movie titled Catfish and an MTV show based upon it) as the cause, firmly backing the player as a victim and not a perp in the scandal. Speaking to press yesterday, Swarbrick spoke at length of how he was confident Te’o had been catfished, and said:

“I would refer all of you, if you’re not already familiar with it, with both the documentary called Catfish, the MTV show which is a derivative of that documentary, and the sort of associated things you’ll find online and otherwise about catfish, or catfishing.”

However, Manti Te’o’s role in the girlfriend hoax has come under scrutiny as well — and many believe that catfishing online has emerged as a convenient explanation for a deception perhaps perpetrated in part by the Notre Dame player himself.

CBS’ Matt Spiegel cites personal experience with catfishing online and theorizes that Te’o may have — if not involved all along — been a part of the hoax actively and furthered the myth of the mysterious dying girlfriend. Spiegel suggests:

“I believe that at the beginning of this story, there is the real possibility that Manti Te’o was the victim of a cruel hoax perpetrated by Roniah Tuiasasopo. Roniah (and others?) created Lennay Kekua; her internet history (and scam attempts) go back to 2008. NFL running back Reagan Mauia says he knew her, even met her (?!) before Manti did. Some things came out late last night on twitter, in this ever-developing story, supporting the premise that Te’o was played.”

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But he tells of a friend who was similarly catfished online — and unexpectedly, didn’t let go when he learned he’d been hoaxed. Spiegel explains:

“My friend didn’t just abandon the charade and move on [after he learned he had been catfished online]; he continued to call, text, chat, and volley with her. He tried to catch her in her lies. They toyed with each other, making weird power plays in a spiral towards her eventual shame … I believe Te’o, at some point in the process, became complicit. And it was public by then; the truth would embarrass him, damage his growing public profile, and distract his surprisingly good team.”

When all is said and done, if Manti Te’o was truly catfished online, it would be a stunning end to a strange tale — but evidence seems to suggest that the football player claimed to have met his fake lady love at least once in person, casting doubt on the catfishing narrative entirely.