Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax: Parents, be wary of 'Catfish' relationships

The Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax is a textbook example of a "Catfish" relationship -- a relationship between a real person and an online impersonator. Kids can fall for a Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax, too. 

Associated Press
The Manti Te'o girlfriend hoax, a "Catfish" relationship, demonstrates how finicky online, social media based relationships can be.

If you’ve been trying to warn your children about the pitfalls of social media relationships, you have a new spokesman: Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o.

Te’o’s story goes way beyond Facebook “relationship status” drama.

The dish, for those of you non sports fans: 

Te’o became the darling of sports media after performing brilliantly on the field while suffering the loss of both his beloved grandmother and his girlfriend. Just days after getting the horrible news about the deaths, which occurred within hours of each other in September of last year, he led his team to a Cinderella victory over Michigan State

He finished second in the voting for this year’s Heisman Trophy.

Te’o spoke openly about the pain of losing both women.

“Every morning I wake up and my girlfriend is not on the phone it reminds me that she’s gone ...  I go through it every day,” he told the Boston Globe in November.

Problem was: the girlfriend wasn’t real. 

Te’o, he and his family have said, was the victim of a hoax.  He was “catfished,” Notre Dame Athletic Director Jack Swarbrick said at a press conference yesterday – a reference to the 2010 documentary (which is subject to its own suspicions) that details a young man’s relationship over Facebook with a non-existent young woman.

“In many ways, Manti was the perfect mark because he’s the guy who was so willing to believe in others,” Swarbrick said. “The pain was real. The grieving was real. The affection was real.”

Much of Te’o’s relationship was built over Twitter, according to news reports, with occasional phone calls. The photos run by news media of the alleged girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, came from a different, unsuspecting woman’s Facebook page.

“This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online,” the football player said in a statement yesterday. “We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating.”

“In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.”

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