Explaining the Manti Te’o Hoax Through “Saved By the Bell,” a Self-Created Fake Hot Chick Twitter Profile, and My Own Personal Life

zackbambiSeason One, Episode Five of Saved By the Bell. Zack Morris’s best friend, Samuel “Screech” Powers, is feeling down. Zack wants to boost Screech’s ego so he agrees to set him up on a date with a girl named Bambi. The only problem? Bambi doesn’t exist.

Unwittingly ecstatic, Screech so strongly demands a rendezvous with his newfound love interest that Zack is forced to impersonate his feminine creation. After speaking with Screech by phone, Zack adorns himself in a purple dress, trendy spectacles, and a wig and meets his nerdy, smitten counterpart at everyone’s favorite hangout, The Max.

***

The girl is a figment of my imagination. She is one of three stunning coeds in an image uncovered after a quick Google search. I give her a name, a biography, a persona — she’s Samantha, a recent college graduate who loves sports and has a feisty, fun-loving attitude. She will become my social experiment. I will use her to experience life as an attractive female sports fan.

She takes to Twitter. Like most social media virgins, she gets started by connecting with those she’s closest to. She “follows” her friends — me, my girlfriend, my friends, my girlfriend’s friends. We’ve already built Samantha a network of legitimate individuals. Suddenly, she has credibility. And those credible sources, over time, will vouch for this concoction of mine.

The experiment isn’t borne out of boredom or a need for entertainment. Rather, it’s prompted by those very same friends who have adopted Samantha as their own, females who have been brazenly pursued time and time again by men online. Not just average men, mind you. Thanks to their good looks and an affinity for sports, these ladies have incurred the affections of a number of upstanding college and professional athletes. Beyond commenting on sporting events, and aside from extending a “follow” to some of the men in question, these women have done absolutely nothing to draw in their pursuers. Which makes this study all the more interesting.

Samantha spreads her Twitter wings and begins to follow a number of accounts relevant to her world — news media-types, sports media-types, celebrities, local athletes. She tweets more. She banters with her “friends.” And then it happens.

One night, not a week after her account has come to life, Samantha receives a Direct Message from one of the athletes she follows, a starter on the University of Washington football team. And against all logic, seemingly oblivious to the fact that there are three girls in Samantha’s avatar photo, he bypasses introductions and writes, “Heyy do i know you, I swear u look familiar…”

***

The first time I ever interacted with the girl who would become my girlfriend, I was suspicious. I issued a tweet about looking for a web design expert who could revamp my website for very little money and she was the first to respond, letting me know that she would gladly pass my request onto a University of Washington department head who worked with students looking for unpaid internships.

My suspicion stemmed from her avatar picture, the only image I could view of this beautiful woman. Ordinarily, I wouldn’t think twice about interacting with anyone on Twitter. But this was different. Her photo was too glamorous. It was too clean. It had all the makings of phoniness. It looked, well, exactly like this:

danceral

We exchanged details by email and our interaction was complete. I thought nothing more of our encounter until months later, when this girl, Andrea (or dancerAL, as I had come to know her), responded to a few more of my tweets. I replied back, she re-replied, we became friends on Facebook, and eventually, days later, she suggested we go out for drinks. I jumped at the opportunity and a date was set.

Before our first meetup, I did some recon work. I scoured her Facebook page (some might call it “stalking;” I call it due diligence), I looked her up on Google, I found the reason behind her “glamour shots” (she moonlit as a Sea Gal, dancing at Seahawks games), and even discovered a video that gave me enough reason to believe this was a living, breathing, non-fake person.

We met up. We hit it off. We had a great night. She existed. She was legit. She was everything I had hoped for the moment we met on Twitter.

***

Manti Te’o is not a victim. He’s been embarrassed, yes, but he has not truly been “victimized.” What has happened to Te’o happens to people every single day on the internet. Only we rarely hear about it. Because most people simply don’t carry the social prominence of a standout Notre Dame football player.

If anything, Te’o may be a victim of his own celebrity. Were he not worth talking about, surely no reporter would ever have published much in the way of details about his personal life. In turn, little would ever have been known about the online relationship — a relationship Te’o led many to believe extended beyond the virtual realm — Te’o held with a young woman by the name of Lennay Kekua.

Kekua, as we found out on Wednesday, does not exist. She did not ever exist. Kekua was made up by someone, somewhere (possibly those individuals alluded to in the linked Deadspin article) as the basis of what seems to be a vicious prank played on one Manti Te’o. Te’o claimed Kekua was his girlfriend. Kekua, through her real-life proprietary liaison, may or may not have corroborated Te’o’s affectionate designation of their romantic affair, but Te’o, at least, believed their relationship to be more than platonic.

For a 21-year-old college student, love can be difficult to decipher. At that age, love is often misunderstood, the heart weakened by lust and infatuation and nothing more. Who knows for sure if Manti Te’o really “loved” his imaginary girlfriend; by all accounts he was certainly taken by her. Regardless of his true emotions, when he ultimately found out he had been duped by an imposter, it had to hurt in a number of different ways. Rather than brush his misfortune off as one of life’s little mistakes, however, Te’o let his pride interfere with this crushing news and a story began to spiral out of control.

At this point, Te’o became somewhat of a victim yet again, this time as a result of his own naivety. In a digital age, answers are everywhere; it’s just up to those willing to work hard enough to go look for them. Te’o, himself, was naive enough to not seek out answers. Had he poked around a few places, as the writers at Deadspin did, he would have found inconsistencies in Kekua’s back-story. He would have seen that Kekua wasn’t really who she claimed to be. And he might have had enough evidence to convince himself that this wasn’t a relationship worth pursuing. He did none of that, though. Or at least not enough.

Te’o was further naive in thinking no one else would unearth the mysteries behind his fly-by-night love interest. That naivety, combined with Te’o’s unadulterated pride, ultimately cost the NFL prospect a chunk of his dignity when the original article broke.

As Te’o said in his own statement on the matter, he has been embarrassed. In similar situations, we all would be. But most of us wouldn’t let that embarrassment live on in print by building upon its falsehood. Which Te’o did when he continued piecing together a story founded on smoke and mirrors. Someone got the best of Te’o; he was determined to keep the scam from surfacing by continuing with the lie.

This isn’t new, of course. As any late-twenty- or early-thirty-something can tell you, this used to happen EVERY SINGLE DAY on AOL Instant Messenger. It’s just that, even as teenagers, most of us were smart enough to sniff out the imposters and ignore any attempts at what some might call a hoax. We can only speculate as to why Te’o was unable to do that, but suffice it to say he might not be real great at using the internet. Frankly, if I had to choose between being pretty darn good at football and pretty darn good at the internet, I’d probably choose football. So he’s got me there.

We can learn from this. We have learned from this. And not just because Manti Te’o is involved.

Take Zack and Screech, for instance. When Zack met up with his pal under the guise of “Bambi,” he managed to weasel his way out of having to continue any hoax by talking Screech out of pursuing a relationship. Screech, for his part, was painted as the unsuspecting dope that somehow managed to see through the absurdity of Bambi’s personality enough to know that going any further with this love affair was a bad idea.

Then there’s Samantha, my fake hot chick. I never had any intention of hurting anybody. So as each subsequent request for Samantha’s attention rolled in through Direct Message and public mention, I tended to ignore my foolish suitors. I experienced something that most average guys never get to experience. I put myself in the shoes of someone completely different than me and it opened my eyes. If more people did that, well, there’d probably be less dudes making lame attempts at obtaining naked pictures from attractive females on Twitter. Because really, it looks incredibly stupid in print. Especially when you don’t know who’s on the receiving end of your request.

And then there’s me. I’ve been down the same path that Te’o ventured down, albeit with greater success. Unlike Te’o, however, I refused to let myself be fooled. I did my homework. I saved the breadth of the conversation for our initial get-together — in fact, I made it a point not to discuss anything of great importance with Andrea via social media before our first date. I made sure I wasn’t going to get screwed over, basically. And now, almost a year later, I’m happily involved with that same person I once met on Twitter.

I know what you’re thinking. How do we know for sure? All I can offer is a picture.

theproof

3 responses

  1. More articles with Saved By the Bell episodes intertwined please….

  2. [...] has written a blog post about his experience in a Catfish hoax. Here is another story involving student-athletes at the University of Washington. Social media is about connecting. Connecting for business, common interest, being a part of the [...]

  3. [...] Regardless of where your loyalties lie, the fact is Siva’s girlfriend likely won’t break up with him over this because, frankly, star athletes get away with this kind of thing all the time. And we tolerate it because that’s what we do, we extend special benefits to athletes that we wouldn’t afford to “normal folk.” To quote your average athlete, it is what it is. And it happens more than you think. [...]

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