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Te'o not alone in claiming online wishful thinking

By Martha Irving

AP National Writer

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 08:25 a.m. HST, Jan 19, 2013


CHICAGO » It started out a stunner: The Heisman Trophy runner-up had told heartbreaking stories about a dead girlfriend who didn't exist. Then it became unreal: The All-American linebacker said he had been duped, and theirs was a relationship that existed only in phone calls and Internet chats.

The reaction was predictable: Unbelievable. Couldn't happen.

People speculated he must be a straight-laced Mormon, naive and unfamiliar with modern-day dating hazards. Or he must be part of an elaborate hoax designed to bolster his image. Because no big-time college football player, beloved on campus and adored by millions, could have a girlfriend he's never ... actually ... met.

Yet even people who really ought to know better say what Notre Dame's Manti Te'o says happened to him has happened to them, and they believe it happens far more often than people care to admit.

"If we shake the tree, we would find hundreds of thousands of people falling out of the tree who are experiencing something like this," said Robert Epstein, a senior research psychologist at the California-based American Institute for Behavioral Research and Technology.

It's just human nature, Epstein said, something known formally by psychologists as "confirmation bias." We watch the news that matches our political beliefs. We discount viewpoints we don't like. We ignore good advice and miss red flags, so we can continue believing in something we want to be true.

In Epstein's case, it was believing he'd made a real connection with an attractive Russian woman named Ivana he met online. In fact, she was nothing more than a computer bot someone had set up to respond to queries on an online dating site.

"A lot of people still make fun of me," he said.

Today's social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, make it easy to "meet" someone without ever doing more than chatting online or exchanging emails. The same tools that allow for such casual contact also can be used by impostors to create intricate personas that exist only on the Internet.

All of it simply makes it that much easier to delude ourselves.

"After a generation of kids growing up with Facebook and decades of online life, you'd think we wouldn't be so easily duped, but I think these people who do the duping are more inventive than people who use the technology," said Steve Jones, a communications professor and online expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago.

It's been happening since people first began mingling in chat rooms more than 20 years ago. In 2006, one mom in Missouri, Lori Drew, created a MySpace page for non-existent teenage boy so she could "romance" — and strike back at — a girl she thought was spreading rumors about her daughter. Humiliated, the targeted girl later killed herself.

"As far back as the 1980s, men were impersonating women, kids were pretending to be adults, and all kinds of relationships with non-existent or phony people flourished online," says Paul Levinson, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University, who studies social media.

Now, he says, "the rise of Twitter and Facebook have only made that easier."

Those behind Te'o's imaginary girlfriend, for instance, created more than one Twitter account for her and appear to have used photos lifted from a California woman's Facebook page to make it look that much more real.

"In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious," Te'o said in a statement earlier in the week. "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."

Te'o has company. As Notre Dame rose to No. 1 in the AP Top 25, sport writers nationwide recounted the story of the heroic, grieving athlete who persevered on the field after a girlfriend named Lennay Kekua was diagnosed with leukemia. Te'o and his family provided them with plenty of stories about the relationship, and no one figured out it was fiction until Deadspin.com broke that news this past week.

In his first interview since, Te'o told ESPN he had lied to his father about having met Kekua. To cover that up, he apparently lied to everyone else.

"That goes back to what I did with my dad. I knew that. I even knew that it was crazy that I was with somebody that I didn't meet," Te'o said during the off-camera interview Friday. "So I kind of tailored my stories to have people think that, yeah, he met her before she passed away."

The fact is that many people don't like to admit that they find love online, let alone that they might be misled by someone they've met that way.

For a young woman in Chicago, it started last February when a potential love interest responded to a personal ad she'd posted in the Craigslist "W4M" section. They communicated for several months online, first by email, and then instant messaging and then online voice chat.

She sent him her photo. He delayed sending his, again and again, and put off meeting in person. He wasn't ready, he told her. It bothered her, but she was so taken with the ease and intimacy of their long, daily conversations — about their lives and their jobs, their family and friends, even sex.

After this went on for eight months, he abruptly deleted his email and Yahoo Messenger accounts, the only means she'd had to reach him. She didn't even know his last name and wouldn't know him if he passed her on the street.

"It all sounds ridiculous when you're not immersed in the situation, but when you are, it's incredibly easy to get sucked in and not want out," said the 23-year-old, a young professional who shared her story on the condition of anonymity, still hesitant to admit how truly heartbroken she was over a person she'd never met in person.

Te'o offered similar details Friday, telling ESPN 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 said he didn't figure out the ruse.

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. Skeptics remain, including some young adults accustomed to making connections on the Internet and by text message.

"Maybe I'd be more inclined to buy it if he was an everyday 'Joe Schmoe,' but with his fame, I can't imagine it happening," said Jennifer Marcus, a 26-year-old New Yorker who blogs about dating and other topics. "To me it seems like he did it for sympathy, or maybe has a few screws loose like a ton of people in this world. People go to great lengths to fit in."

For the 23-year-old Chicagoan, her experience online hasn't led her to swear off using Craigslist and the OkCupid website to find dates. She has, however, started heeding the red flags she once ignored, she says, and cuts off communication with anyone who won't meet with her in person.

"I don't want my time wasted again with someone who isn't willing to give the same amount of transparency and availability that I am," she said. "I'm planning a third date with someone who is very much the person he claimed to be."

___

Online:

Epstein's article: http://www.scientificamerican.com/article.cfm?id=from-russia-with-love

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HonoluluHawaii wrote:
I guess u guys just scan all the media outlets to see which news is "All the News That's Fit to Print". I am looking at a print edition of The Honolulu Advertiser as they have that caption on the top left corner.
on January 19,2013 | 06:53AM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
lol nobody decided to accuse me of a flat out lie? When i mentioned the HA? I am of course talking about The New York Times.
on January 19,2013 | 09:25AM
Iuki wrote:
But didn't Matti talk with this person he thought was real on the phone numerous times? I think he told Sports Illustrated he would leave his phone on all night so he could hear her breathing. Who was that person? Or did he make that up, too?
on January 19,2013 | 07:42AM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
lol
on January 19,2013 | 09:13AM
DiverDave wrote:
Correct luki ,Well what an evil web we weave, when first we try to deceive. Like Lance Armstrong and other public figures including the likes of Bill Clinton, when the time to tell the truth comes their egos, and their public personna just keeps them from clearing it up. Sure the media (Sports Illustrated and ESPN) originally talked up the story without doing any background check on the girl in question. Who is she? Where does she live? Where did she go to school? Who are her parents, and their take on the relationship? What hospital is she in? You know the basic who, what, when, and where that apparently is not taught anymore in Journalism 101. It's amazing that liberal publications fact checked everything a Republican said in the last election, but the New York Times couldn't even ask for a picture of the two of them together! But, ultimately the responsibility for the hoax on the public must rest with the man that started it Manti Te'o. In an ESPN interview in Oct. 2012 he stated that "she was the most beautiful girl I have had ever met". Now Te'o says, "there is no way I could be a part of this". Really Manti? Perhaps originally the hoax ( a very awful one) was perpetrated on him. But, in the end he allowed it to be perpetrated on the public by not simply telling the truth.
on January 19,2013 | 09:44AM
serious wrote:
There is a talk show host that claims that our boy is GAY and made up the story so it wouldn't hurt his draft position if the NFL found out!!!
on January 19,2013 | 10:01AM
allie wrote:
maybe it is a samoan ting?
on January 19,2013 | 11:37AM
fishwrider wrote:
fantasizing again?
on January 19,2013 | 02:54PM
jussayin wrote:
Yup, Matti did say he talked to her on the phone. From what I saw on ESPNS, it's hard to say if he's telling the truth and if he is, he said he lied to his dad and the public. Seems convenient although it may be the truth on some questions such as why did he continue to talk about his dead girlfriend after Dec 6 after he found out the truth. His response was that he had a hard time believing the truth. Blah, blah. It didn't help that Matti took so long to come forward. It's also interesting that he didn't want to be video taped and he had his lawyer there. Heck, you would think Armstrong would need a lawyer too when he was interviewed if that's the case.
on January 19,2013 | 07:56AM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
Only two things are concrete, per Benjamin Franklin: Death and Taxes. Anything else has many shades of gray, which is one of the reasons why the following occurred: Alabama 42, Notre Dame 14. Let us face it, Notre Dame is a dead program, just like Wahine Volleyball. I mean why can u not win another one, Dave Shoji? I mean u guys were ranked number two ten years ago when u had Kim Willoughby and Lily Kahumoku and u STILL could not get it done.
on January 19,2013 | 09:17AM
mcc wrote:
Neither is a dead program, the only thing dead is your brain.
on January 19,2013 | 11:54AM
allie wrote:
Manti's story does not add up. PR folks at Notre Dame are writing his speeches. Manti's integrity, maturity and intelligence have been questioned and he is an embarrassment to hawaii. That said, I blame Notre dame for the games they played and their horrible scandal-plagued football machine.
on January 19,2013 | 07:57AM
GONEGOLFIN wrote:
Allie, what doesnt add up. It makes perfect sense to me as it should you. You are the exact example of how this is possible.An alias person coming onto a chat room, spilling out your senseless garbage of criticism, and negative feedback only to perpetuate a never ending see of untruths and lies. You are this story in a nutshell-a total fake whose only goal is to put the truth in the wrong light and destroy peoples sense of everything good in this world. We would all be better off in this world without you. The movie "You Got Mail" is a perfect example of how this story came about. So get off this negative train you're on and start looking for the good in the world and the people in it. You might find your whole outlook on life is better and brighter.
on January 19,2013 | 08:38AM
NanakuliBoss wrote:
Spot on, gonegolfin, allie, aka, a lie, is also a fake gf. Look in the mirror, a lie.
on January 19,2013 | 08:57AM
allie wrote:
huh?
on January 19,2013 | 09:20AM
fishwrider wrote:
good answer, troll. and you're a guy.
on January 19,2013 | 09:58AM
allie wrote:
wrong..I just said what the antional press said. I am simply saying I blame Notre Dame for the outrage more than Manti Chicago tribune agrees with me. Please wake up
on January 19,2013 | 09:20AM
fishwrider wrote:
You keep on constantly changing your take. kind of like saying you couldn't wait to eave here (i.e. "can't wait to leave la la land') then in the same post saying you love Hawaii. weirdo.
on January 19,2013 | 10:00AM
allie wrote:
i love lala land
on January 19,2013 | 11:38AM
fishwrider wrote:
make some sense before posting. or at least keep your lies straight.
on January 19,2013 | 02:53PM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
Allie said she works as a cashier at a Pizza Restaurant in Waikiki at nights. We have 11 more months to check out that story as Allie has decided to graduate in December Twenty-Thirteen. I bet if we asked if she really was Allie, as we check out her story, she may even deny it, if we go into her restaurant. I play Poker and sometimes players bluff. Just stare at her face when u ask her if she is Allie. Then if she hesitates, u know u have a definitive TELL that she really is Allie.
on January 19,2013 | 09:22AM
fishwrider wrote:
Good one. Bloggers prepare to investigate and report findings
on January 19,2013 | 10:01AM
allie wrote:
giggle,,,i met 2 from here already
on January 19,2013 | 11:39AM
8082062424 wrote:
goes to show got some real needy folks in here.
on January 19,2013 | 12:44PM
fishwrider wrote:
no you haven't. LIAR. LOL.
on January 19,2013 | 02:49PM
fishwrider wrote:
It doesn't add up for you because you're a hater. And a troll. Thanks.
on January 19,2013 | 09:58AM
Mythman wrote:
You see, here it keeps coming, the Bowl Shype - we know a local boy grew up Kahuku did not write the following words but the above story says he did so. The B S is so deeply inculcated they do not even realize they are doing it. Here's what the Samoan North Shore is quoting as saying in a "statement" Of course it was written by his management agency and their pr staff: "In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious," Te'o said in a statement earlier in the week. "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." Come on now, enough of this crapola.......
on January 19,2013 | 08:08AM
jussayin wrote:
Just went on Yahoo to check out what's happening around the globe and there was another article on Manti. I glanced thru it and during the recent interview it said, "The relationship escalated after Notre Dame's game against Purdue in 2011. It got even more "intense"" It seems odd to not meet each other after going out for about a year. Another one that's interesting: " One of the most pressing questions over the last few days was why Te'o didn't visit the supposedly ailing Kekua in the hospital. Schaap posed that to Te'o, who said, "It never really crossed my mind. I don't know. I was in school."" Hmmm. He goes on TV during the season saying that's the love of his life but when she's very ill it never crossed his mind to visit? Another hmmm. Yup, it doesn't add up.
on January 19,2013 | 08:09AM
livinginhawaii wrote:
Who cares? Ya'all need to move on with your lives. Continue to read and believe the hotsheets....MIB
on January 19,2013 | 08:22AM
HonoluluHawaii wrote:
Yup this story has even trumped the supposed important story of the Army possibly losing nearly $400 million in annual payroll and putting a definite crimp in our economy, including THE TRAIN, as shown on today's front page. Manti, u r more important to us than $400 million dollars?? Omg smh ttyl lol.
on January 19,2013 | 09:29AM
Mythman wrote:
The "story" is not about the football player, it is ABOUT LYING MEDIA, and that's why it is so important. It's like finding out your own mother has been lying to you your whole life. Come on, Now.
on January 19,2013 | 11:11AM
ahi1pfb wrote:
Yup, I see da a'ama crabs coming out early this morning!
on January 19,2013 | 08:27AM
jussayin wrote:
Amazing how nearly every website and TV channels are carrying news about this. Even the investment channels that I watch talk about it. Another interesting notes from ESPN's interview, " One of the most pressing questions over the last few days was why Te'o didn't visit the supposedly ailing Kekua in the hospital. Schaap posed that to Te'o, who said, "It never really crossed my mind. I don't know. I was in school." " Kind of strange .. ..
on January 19,2013 | 09:05AM
allie wrote:
Teo is being hammered in the national press as I s aid above.
on January 19,2013 | 09:21AM
fishwrider wrote:
Not by all, troll. LOL.
on January 19,2013 | 10:02AM
allie wrote:
check washington post today hon
on January 19,2013 | 11:40AM
fishwrider wrote:
not by all, troll. next time I'll type slower. LOL
on January 19,2013 | 02:52PM
residenttaxpayer wrote:
Time for Te'o and the public to move on and leave this episode behind. It's getting tiresome to read and hear about this.
on January 19,2013 | 09:09AM
allie wrote:
agree
on January 19,2013 | 09:21AM
HiNaihe808 wrote:
Which girlfriend visited with family Hawaii during Christmas?
on January 19,2013 | 09:35AM
Loyalty wrote:
It took the Chicago woman eight months to figure it out. It took Manti THREE YEARS to figure it out (supposedly) Hmmm.....
on January 19,2013 | 09:40AM
false wrote:
It's a crazy story but people get played all the time and end up embarrassed or worse. He's lucky he didn't get swindled out of half his rookie contract. He says he was suckered. Maybe something will come out later that says otherwise. But, really--so what? It's a scam, it's not a scam--whatever. It's his life and he's the one living it. I'm not going to judge the guy one way or the other unless he's trying to scam me. So many people--the media in particular--seem transfixed by the mysterious Life of Te'o instead of living their own lives and getting on with something more important.
on January 19,2013 | 01:30PM
kailua000 wrote:
The quote from Jennifer Marcus is not even relevant. she doesnt know him and being a celebrity is supposed to make him wiser? he did not ask to be a celebrity, the press made him a celebrity. "with his fame I cant imagine it happening" seems to me he was the perfect target. Tuiasosopo knew him thru family and knew he was an honest and trusting person and targeted him specifically because of this. Marcus was not targete by someone she knew or knew her personality. Does she really think he has a problem fitting in. She is irrelevant and should not have been interviewed in this article.
on January 19,2013 | 06:37PM
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