The unfolding of the Manti Te’o girlfriend hoax story has been both strange and fascinating. Here is one thing we should take away from Te’o’s experience: few people online are in danger of experiencing something similar, of being “Catfished.” In a statement issued by Te’o on Wednesday, January 16, here is his second to last sentence:
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.
People should use common sense online. But, we know that many users of the Internet and of common social networking sites like Facebook are not there to meet strangers and begin relationships. Rather, most users are interested in connecting with people they already know or people who might be inside a common circle, say, part of an incoming college freshman class or who are part of a larger organization. To be “Catfished” means that an Internet user would have to seek out some of these relationships with unknown or random people. Since many people are not seeking this out or responding to the occasional odd request, this is not a huge problem for the general population of Internet users. While the movie Catfishpresents such a scenario and MTV has a show with the same name and theme, this does not mean it is a common occurrence.