Online Safety Lessons We Can Learn from the Manti Te'o Scandal
Jan 17, 2013 7:00am
When I was studying journalism in college, my professors taught me the importance of double and triple-checking information from our sources. The phrase “if your mother says she loves you, check it out,” was drilled into my brain beginning the first week of classes.
It was meant to encourage us to question everything, to do our research and to not take anything we were told at face value.
“If your mother says she loves you, check it out” is certainly applicable to journalists. But it’s also good advice for anyone building friendships and relationships online.
By now you’ve probably heard of the Manti Te’o scandal.
But for those of you who haven’t, here’s a recap: The Te’o saga began as a tear-jerking story of a Notre Dame linebacker who led his team to an undefeated regular season and the national championship game after enduring a series of personal tragedies: his beloved grandmother and girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, died within hours of each other in September.
Te’o’s story had Disney written all over it. A boy falls in love with a girl he claimed to have met at a football game. They have an online, long-distance relationship until she is diagnosed with leukemia and dies. Hours after learning of her death, he leads his team to a victory. He reminisces about their relationship in interviews. He lands the cover of Sports Illustrated and gets nominated for the Heisman trophy.
His story tugged at your heartstrings and catapulted him into the national spotlight.
Even if you could care less about football, you were rooting for Te’o to succeed. He gained even more fans when he visited the family of a Michigan girl who had recently died of leukemia and loved Notre Dame football.
Yesterday, we learned it was all a hoax.
Te’o’s girlfriend never existed.
Details about the entire scandal are still sketchy and Te’o’s role in this still isn’t clear.
But someone (several news organizations report it was Te’o’s friend Ronaiah Tuiasosopo) created an Instagram and Twitter account in Kekua’s name. Photos of Kekua are actually that of another girl, whose photos were used without her permission.
Whether he was duped or in on it the entire time is yet to be seen.
But Manti Te’o isn’t the only one.
Each week, MTV’s “Catfish” show chronicles stories of people falling in love online and being fooled when they discover the person they’ve been talking to for months –even years – isn’t the person they thought it was.
These stories show just how easy it is to create a persona online: Pick a name. Find a photo of an attractive person online. Create an account on a social networking site.
In the time it takes to order a latte, you can become a whole new person online.
We can all learn lessons from these stories, regardless of whether you’re in an online relationship.
The first lesson is to STOP. THINK. CONNECT. Use your critical thinking skills. Take a moment to really process the information and think things through before you jump headfirst into a relationship.
Here are some other tips:
In the unfortunate (and rare) situation that you become the victim of fraud, you can learn how to get your life back on track with our Victims of Cybercrime Tip Sheet.