Te'o fallout shows dark side of social media

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by TODD UNGER

WFAA

Posted on January 22, 2013 at 1:38 PM

FORT WORTH -- Revelations that former Notre Dame star football player Manti Te'o's online relationship with a girlfriend may have been part of an elaborate hoax are all the buzz on college campuses, like TCU.

Students were glued to their social media feeds on Thursday, trying to get the latest on the bizarre case.

"I heard about it on Twitter and tons of people are talking about it," said student Patrick Homa.

Word surfaced this week that Te'o's so-called girlfriend, who he only tweeted with and talked with on the phone, may not actually exist. Her supposed untimely death last year was said to have been part of the inspiration behind the star player's stellar season.

"It shows how easy it is to fall into stuff like that," Homa said.

TCU professor Dr. Sage Elwell is preparing a workshop right now showcasing the dark side of social media. He said the case may be a near-perfect example of "catfishing," where someone creates a fictional online person and then tries to lure other folks online into a relationship.

"You can cultivate a certain image or persona, and that persona can be really appealing," Elwell said.

He said relationships that solely exist online often times allow someone to overlook red flags, or character flaws, that may only become evident in face-to-face interaction.

He also said it showcases an ever-changing question: "What is the nature of relationships in a digital culture?"

Elwell said if you don't meet face-to-face at some point, it's hard to know if the relationship is a healthy, or real, one.

"You have to meet at some point to make it successful," said student Danielle Bullock.

Te'o may have learned that the hard way. The linebacker says he was the victim in the hoax, and the school is standing behind him.

E-mail tunger@wfaa.com

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