Te'o story raises spotlight on "catfishing"

Manti Te'o says he was duped by an online hoax.
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If the confusing Manti Te'o story seems like something from a TV script, it is.

"We ended up calling it 'Catfish'," says a character in the MTV series where cameras track down mysterious Internet loves for people in love with people they've never met.

"I would say it occurs to folks just as much as faking occurs offline," said Indiana University professor Mark Deuze. "I would say it is a natural part of us trying to figure out how we relate to each other in media."

That is, in the new media.

The IU researcher is not surprised about the Notre Dame hoax. Online hoaxes happen, he says. He's just surprised it's gone on for years.

"It sounds like a Hollywood movie," says Professor Deuze. "Also, the amount of resources that had to go into it, actors, actresses, faking accounts, maintaining this over time."

An elaborate plot for some unknown goal.

Even on the social media savvy IU campus, students told Eyewitness News, "I just never realized how real it could be."

"You think you're talking to a girl online, but suddenly it's a 60-year-old guy hanging out in his underwear," said another student.

It has already sparked overnight parodies and even a blogger loyal to Notre Dame wonders if Heisman dreams may have sparked the sympathetic storm of a dead woman inspiring an athlete to reach for greatness.

"That people sometimes pretend. That's what we all do," Deuze said.

It may have been a hoax, he says, a script that Manti Te'o didn't write, but later couldn't get out of because of the media.

"To what extent was media part of this - a kind of culture where we try to maintain this best version of ourselves and make ourselves look better than we really are. Sometimes we get stuck in that narrative," Deuze said.

Most catfishing cases involve a few people. This one played out on the world stage. And that could have bad implications.

"Nobody seems real anymore. And we lose trust," said Deuze.