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Jan 17, 2013

Manti Te'o's Imaginary Girlfriend Explained

Ok, this is a weird one. The middle linebacker for Notre Dame, Manti Te'o, dedicated much of this season to his deceased girlfriend. Well it turns out the girlfriend was a hoax! She never existed in the real world.

The entire relationship took place on-line. Manti never met the girl in person. He is a devote Mormon, thusly, any premarital hanky panky is frowned upon. So that might offer an explanation of why he never pushed for a meet. The press seems to think he did this as a publicity stunt, but they are just projecting their own low standards. It seems very possible to me that Manti was taken in by a troll.

What is a troll your ask? Well if you have spent any significant amount of time playing World of Warcraft or participating in an on-line forum this is an easy answer. A troll is someone who uses the anonymity of the Internet to f*!# with people. They will say or do anything to incite an argument or illicit a response. Nice normal folks who have not used the Net much, have a hard time conceiving that such people exist. I can assure you, they do.

Anyway, CNET has the whole story here. It has all the details of what happened. To date, no one seems to know who perpetrated the hoax. However, the pictures used for the girlfriend are of a real woman living in Southern California.

Update: Here is the Deadspin story. According to the story, they DID meet in person and talked on the phone regularly, according to the media. With the additional information from the story, looks like there is something fishy in Denmark. So much for my troll theory. LOL. :) Getting to the bottom of this should be VERY interesting.

Update 2: 1/21/2013
It looks like my first reaction may have been the correct one. Manti Te'o gave ESPN an interview on Friday and explained his side of things. So here are some key points.
  • Manti never met the girlfriend in person. Several meetups were planned, but the "girlfriend" always canceled at the last minute.
  • Manti told his father he had met the girl because he was embarrassed that she didn't show up and he wanted to avoid any grief his father may have given him because of that.
  • Manti talked to the girlfriend on the phone regularly during 2012. So there was a real woman, pretending to be his girlfriend. It was not a text only sort of relationship.
This is a new term I learned this week. A catfish is someone who pretends to be something they are not online to create a false identity and pursue deceptive romances. The term comes from a documentary and MTV TV show that brought light to this online problem. More details on that can be found from this Yahoo story and this local Indianapolis TV story.

So it looks like Manti was hoaxed by Ronaiah Tuiasosopo with the help of a male and female friend. The female friend played "Lennay" and talked to Manti. The other two helped by creating fake family and friends to help make "Lennay" more real. The way they really got their claws into Te'o was by claiming Lennay had been injured in a serious car accident. So they played on Manti's natural empathy and willingness to help someone in need. So this was no simple text based romance, but a very elaborate conspiracy.

It seems highly unlikely to me that Manti was in on the hoax. Ronaiah was at best, an acquaintance. You would only mastermind something like this with a close friend. By Manti's account, he only met Ronaiah once in LA. Given the rigorous schedule required of college football players, it would be very unlikely someone splitting his time between Hawaii and South Bend, Indiana, would have any time to become best bro's with someone in LA.

So anyway, at this point in time, it looks like to me, that Manti is telling the truth. And "catfishing" is something you need to tell your friends and family about.

Update 3 01/24/13: Ok, I feel even worse for Te'o now. The "woman" he talked to for all those months was Tuiasosopo pretending to be a woman. No wonder he didn't want to tell anyone what happened. Of course, we don't know when he found that out. Yahoo has a story here.

Update 4 1/25/13: It appears to most people now that Ronaiah is lying about being the "Lennay" on the phone. For the Katie Couric interview, Te'o produced some voicemails and deadspin has a few of them. It seems pretty clear that he was talking to a woman, most likely Tino Tuiasosopo, a cousin of Ronaiah, was playing the part of "Lennay". The media is still suggesting Manti was in on the hoax, but has produced no evidence showing that Ronaiah was anything more than a passing acquaintance. So it does looks like several people were in on the hoax, which just amazes me. How could you go through with something like this for months and months? This story just keeps getting weirder all the time.

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