In the past few weeks, University of Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s fake online relationship has caused nothing short of a frenzy.
Te’o told Katie Couric that he had been tricked during a two-year online relationship with a woman he thought was Lennay Kekua. Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, pretending to be Kekua, went so far as to fake his voice in phone messages and use a young woman’s photos to perpetuate the lie.
Other stories like Te’o's have been played out in the MTV reality series Catfish, a show that reveals the authenticity — or, more frequently, the lack thereof — of online relationships.
Interest in the show has increased since the Te’o hoax story broke. Now, with so many people being deceived by others on the Internet, it makes you wonder: How do you avoid being “catfished”?
To start, go with your instincts.
Jeff Hancock, communication and information science associate professor at Cornell University, said there are usually telltale signs that indicate whether or not a person genuinely wants to connect with you.
“The thing with a catfish is you’re talking with someone, but don’t physically see them,” he said.
Before the advent of online social networking, Hancock said you would generally meet someone face-to-face before beginning a relationship. Today, if the person on the other side of the screen is reluctant to meet after multiple opportunities, that’s probably a red flag.
“Your instinct is telling you whether this person is avoiding meeting you,” said Hancock, who specializes in social interactions online.
Online-dating sites often suggest face-to-face interaction if a strong connection is forged, and as soon as you feel comfortable, Hancock said. Catfishing may be less likely on Facebook, however, since users have personalized networks.
“It is, of course, possible, but that’s what makes Facebook interesting. You can become friends with their friends and see if everything matches up,” he said.
If your suspicion is growing, then Google the person, Hancock said. Pay attention to things that don’t match up with what he or she is telling you.
FamilyEducation.com suggests using Google images to search the person to see if his or her pictures have appeared on other sites — namely ones that don’t belong to the user — or if the photos exist at all.
Sometimes, even when following these suggestions, it’s possible to be fooled for two weeks, two months — or even two years.
Though Hancock couldn’t say how long most online relationship hoaxes last, he said they usually intensify quickly, capturing your imagination in a similar way to reading a book.
“Since it’s text and phone calls, we can fill in a lot of imagination,” he said. “It feels just as real as anything else.”
So, it doesn’t surprise Hancock that Te’o’s relationship carried on for an extended time.
While people find themselves in Te’o’s position, there’s generally no legal action that can be taken against the “catfisher.”
According to the legal blog of Bradley Shear, a Washington, D.C.-based lawyer with social media expertise, many states have laws against impersonating others — but that means real people, not an imaginary, made-up identity.
“Both California and Washington state’s law focus on impersonating real people and not those who are part of someone’s imagination,” he wrote. “Other states such as Arizona are also trying to pass legislation banning online impersonation. Unfortunately, some of these laws may infringe on the First Amendment and may eventually be declared unconstitutional.”
Still worried about being “catfished”? Hancock has a simple solution: “Don’t talk to anyone.”
Powered by Facebook Comments