Hook, line and sinker

In the 2010 documentary “Catfish”, a family scattered throughout Michigan all play a hand in seducing a New York filmmaker, Nev Schulman, into believing he has a real connection with a girl on the internet. He’s sent pictures and letters, only to find out the Facebook profiles he so ardently believed in were only fantasies of what the life of the family’s matron might be like if “she had made better life choices.”

Salmon, when kept in captivity, became languid and their flesh becomes mushy. When catfish are introduced to their environment, the salmon lead more active lives. From their perspective, the family was acting much like catfish in a population of salmon by shaking up the status quo. In the digital world, those who act online as “catfish” to unsuspecting “salmon” online, do it ‘because they can.’

The motives of Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, better known as Lennay Kekua, are still being unraveled. He played the role of the girl Manti Te’o supposedly had an online relationship with. Te’o, a linebacker for the Notre Dame football team, fell for this new kind of hoax for more than a year before the truth emerged.

In the meantime, the media focused on the image of Te’o crouched on the field, his shoulders graced with lei’s and tears streaming down his cheeks, the picture of romantic bravery.

“I know they’re with me on the field,” he said to reporters. His suffering wasn’t entirely the result of deception. His grandmother had actually died very recently. All this drama makes what immediately followed even more tragic.

First, there was the imminent backlash against the sports journalists who took his word as gospel and described how losing his loved ones compromised Notre Dame’s performance as they lost the national championship. A quick fact-check revealed that the girlfriend in question didn’t exist. Then the woman whose picture had been stolen and used as the image of Te’o’s sweetheart came forward and announced that she had not, in fact, died of leukemia.

As it came back around to Te’o, he fumbled the timeline, got his parents involved, and later backtracked on other details. He had not, in fact, met Lennay in Hawaii when he went on a family trip to Samoa. Some suspected that his buddies had been in on it, or that perhaps it was his own elaborate prank on us. But now we know that it’s much more likely that he was Catfished. His testimony of innocence is no longer met with suspicion.

On an episode of “Dr. Phil,” Ronaiah Tuiasosopo had admitted to reaching out to Te’o through a phony profile and leaving him voicemails. The ability he had to reach out and connect with Te’o illustrates his mastery of manipulation. This personality trait appears to be a common denominator in these publicized occurrences of Catfishing. Those who are mavens of social media know exactly how to lure in more susceptible people.

This concept may be new, but it’s already been brought full circle. After Te’o and his parents sat down to be interviewed by Katie Couric, she hosted Nev Schulman on her show to try to understand the Catfish concept. Since the documentary film became a success, Schulman now hosts a show called “Catfish: The TV Show.” Each week he is contacted by someone who is deeply involved with someone online but suspects that the object of their affection may be just a projected entity of an unknown Catfish. In the process of the show, Schulman attempts to either bring the two together or reveal if they have been deceived. His argument is that since social media have become so prevalent in societies around the world, hoaxes happen all the time.

This topic has been so thoroughly explored in a very short time. It has been dissected in mass media classes and big name news organizations. It even extends to a personal level: I would be lying if I said that I had never developed feelings for a stranger I met online. I, too, have dealt with the fear that I was like a moth gravitating to a flame.

In the first example, someone who had first contacted me was someone with whom I had mutual friends who lived a few cities away. Luckily, some of my friends had already met him and could confirm that he was who he claimed to be and I ended up meeting them in person eventually.

In the second example, someone contacted me who lives in New York. Through some very methodical creeping, I’ve determined that we do, in fact, share mutual friends. All the same, to save yourself from both the risk of falling into the hands of a criminal or just the drawn-out wretchedness of being Catfished, do your best to make friends in the real world. In that case, you’re more likely to get what you see.