Relationships with virtual human beings

You have probably heard about Manti Te’o, Notre Dame’s Heisman Trophy candidate, whose dying girlfriend turned out to involve an on-line relationship with a woman who didn’t exist.  Now he is being accused of knowingly participating in the hoax to take advantage of the sob-story to give him publicity.  Some people are saying this is going to hurt him in the draft, with NFL teams not wanting to take him with this humiliating  baggage.  Finally Te’o has told his side of the story to ESPN.

I have no problem believing that the young man started an online relationship with someone he thought was sick and calling her his girlfriend, even though he never met her in person.  And that it turned out to be a prank by an acquaintance of his–well, this is the virtual world that many people live in.From the Associated Press summary of the ESPN interview:

Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o insisted he had no role in the bizarre hoax involving his “dead” girlfriend and told ESPN on Friday night that he was duped by a person who has since apologized to him.

In an off-camera interview Friday with ESPN, Te’o said Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old acquaintance who lives in California, contacted him two days ago and confessed to the prank. Deadspin.com first exposed the scheme on Wednesday and indicated Tuiasosopo was involved in it.

“I wasn’t faking it,” ESPN quoted Te’o as saying during the 2 1-2 hour interview. “I wasn’t part of this. When they hear the facts they’ll know. They’ll know there is no way I could be a part of this.”

Te’o said he first met Tuiasosopo in person after the Southern California game in November. According to the linebacker, Tuiasosopo told him he was the cousin of Lennay Kekua, the woman who Te’o believed he had fallen for through Internet chats and long phone conversations. But Kekua never existed.

“Two guys and a girl are responsible for the whole thing,” Te’o told ESPN. “According to Ronaiah, Ronaiah’s one.”

The Tuiasosopo family has declined several interview requests from The Associated Press since Wednesday.

Te’o said he never met Kekua face-to-face and when he tried to speak with her via Skype and video phone calls, the picture was blocked. Still, he didn’t figure out the ruse.

He also told ESPN that he lied to his father about having met Kekua. To cover that up, he apparently lied to everyone else.

After he was told Kekua had died of leukemia in early September, Te’o admitted he misled the public about the nature of the “relationship” because he was uncomfortable saying it was purely an electronic romance.

via Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o tells ESPN he was never involved in creating girlfriend hoax – The Washington Post.

What lessons are to be learned here?

 

About Gene Veith

Professor of Literature at Patrick Henry College, the Director of the Cranach Institute at Concordia Theological Seminary, a columnist for World Magazine and TableTalk, and the author of 18 books on different facets of Christianity & Culture.

  • tODD

    Veith asked, “What lessons are to be learned here?”

    Um, don’t talk to people online?

  • fjsteve

    The skeptic in me wants to say that the only differences between Teo’s story and a lot of “human interest” stories on television is that it unraveled more quickly and more publicly that most. Not that it’s any less true. I don’t know how realistic that viewpoint is but it’s probably not a bad idea to be highly skeptical of all of these stories just as a matter of habit.

  • Pete

    Virtually nothing.

  • Carl Vehse

    If Barry can have an imaginary girlfriend, why can’t Manti? Or is it only allowed for traitorous occupants of the White House with a sycophant press?

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    For me, a virtual girlfriend would be a step up.

  • http://tdaviddemarest.com Trent

    Yes, don’t talk to people online. Did you hear that, people?

  • Tom Hering

    I understand, Lars (@ 9:08 am). I’d consider a virtual girlfriend myself, but I have to admit I’m used to the old-fashioned kind. They’re really not that hard to inflate.

  • Jen L

    As a very happily married woman who met her husband online, I don’t think we can conjecture from this that talking to people online is a bad thing. Sure, it’s something to enter into with a lot of caution, and it’s good to be a little more suspicious than Teo was. But people got pranks played on them and got scammed in relationships before there was an internet to use for it. It’s incredible to me how out of hand the lies got. What a tangled web we weave.

  • Steve Bauer

    I get it…”tangled web”…can we add this to the pun thread from last week?

  • Dr Luther in the 21st Century

    If you have never met a person in real life you can’t call them your boy/girlfriend. There are too many unknowns and too many trolls to make risking a close relationship with a person online worth while. And if you are remotely famous, don’t even think about online relationships.

  • fjsteve

    Ha! I’m suddenly reminded of the movie “Lars and the Real Girl”

    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lars_and_the_Real_Girl

  • Mary

    Me too!

  • Klasie Kraalogies

    I don’t know any of you! Some of you might even not exist! Then again, do I exist as a corporeal human, or am I just a set of algorithms in software package? Or maybe I’m a Turing machine…..

    :)

  • WebMonk

    Sure you can. My brother in law dated a girl online for a couple years before ever meeting her in meatspace. They are now married.

  • http://www.brandywinebooks.net Lars Walker

    Based on my life. Except, of course, for all the facts.

  • http://www.facebook.com/mesamike Mike Westfall

    On the Internet, nobody know you’re a dog.
    Or non-existent, even.

  • Helen K.

    Mike @ 5:38 pm—–I could even pun this one but will allow someone else to have the fun. (:

  • Grace

    Blogs can be interesting, discussing subjects of interest, but on-line ‘real friendships, or romance? I believe one is taking a big risk in taking it too seriously.

    Looking for friends and solid relationships? Look within your church, neighbors, friends, associations you might belong to.

    Are people so hard up to find friends, dates and spouses, to end up on their computer to solve what should be a natural attraction ‘IN PERSON? The whole idea is very strange!

  • Grace

    Mike,

    I’ve heard a few ‘barks here and there on the blogs, so perhaps there are dogs posting. Maybe even a snake or two, hissing away in the grass! :roll:

  • sg

    I don’t know any of you! Some of you might even not exist!

    For all you know, we are all different characters created by Dr. Veith to make it look like he has a lot of traffic, so patheos would pick up his blog and he could collect some cool change. So, maybe tODD is real because someone has to generate all those IP addresses!

  • sg

    Back in the day, mid ’80′s, before the internet, there were computer bulletin boards you could access with a modem by dialing directly using a phone number. Of course the only people you were likely to meet would be those very few who had a modem and loved tech stuff, etc. Pretty safe sorts generally.

  • skyorrichegg

    sg @ 10:27
    Ah, yeah good ol’ BBSes. I wish I could have grown up in that time. There is even a computer game called Digital: A Love Story, that emulates that era, and has as its plot a guy who falls in love with a girl he met exchanging messages on his local BBS who is not all that she seems, rather like this news story…


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