Football Hoax Finds Fuel in Social Media

Manti Te'o Answers Press QuestionsThanks to the internet, people have been able to learn about all manners of strange and weird stories. Many of these stories would never have seen the light of day twenty – or even ten – years ago. But there’s something about odd stories that captivate our attention. The latest confusing story comes out of college football and it has shown us how powerful social media can be.

Manti Te’o and His Girlfriend

I’ll admit I don’t follow sports very closely, but this news story going viral since yesterday has really blown up. As Lateef Munigin writes this morning for CNN, “This may be the strangest twist in a tale overflowing with strangeness.” Manti Te’o’s tale of triumph against sorrow and Notre Dame’s opponents has, thanks in part to social media, become national news.

Te’o spent his season tweeting and talking about the loss of his grandmother. Okay, sounds legit and normal so far. But then people learned of Teo’o’s girlfriend who became diagnosed with leukemia and was unable to beat the disease. She passed away within days of his grandmother, or so the story went for months.

The losses seemed to inspire his stellar and fascinating performance this season. Te’o played so well he was on the radar for the Heisman Trophy, college football’s greatest award. He developed quite a following; his noble efforts were well liked by the press and by social media users. But things weren’t exactly as they seemed, and that’s where this story takes off.

What’s Going On? 

A sports blog discovered that Teo’o’s beloved girlfriend, as Sam Laird writes for Mashable, “never existed.” To put it bluntly, “she never died and she never lived.” Even the images and content on her social media accounts like Twitter were faked. In fact, the Twitter account associated with the deceased “girlfriend” made a post on Wednesday night of this week, seemingly protecting Te’o, only to have the account deleted soon after.

Whaaaat?

This story has become so large in a matter of hours and days that all of the major news outlets are covering it. Notre Dame’s assistant vice president has even posted on the school’s Facebook. Sam Laird reports that the VP essentially stated that “[Manti Te’o] was, in fact, the victim of an evil and cold-hearted deception by other people.” The whole situation is under investigation now. To make matters even more confusing, an Arizona Cardinals player claims he knew this girlfriend before she even met Manti Te’o.

To make matters worse, the latest news is that Manti Te’o has changed his Facebook relationship status to “It’s complicated.” Yes, yes it sure is complicated.

This Story Has All the Right Ingredients 

Whatever the outcome or truth behind this story, it’s fascinating to see how viral it has gone in just a day. The mystery and oddness about the story has people sharing it like crazy on social media. The term Manti Te’o was the hottest search on Google at over 1,000,000 searches. Te’o is also a top trending search on Twitter.

This story has mystery, confusion, and celebrity. The story is so bizarre that speculation – and conspiracy theories – have been running rampant for hours. It connects to people of all backgrounds, from sports fans to celebrity gossip fans. Social media is simply helping to fuel the flames.

This is the sort of attention any business dreams of. If only it were an easy formula to know how to make the perfect viral story. Unfortunately it isn’t. But you can still learn some lessons from these stories that spread like wildfire. It’s obvious that a human connection or a human aspect to content is vital; people share the content that impacts them emotionally and mentally. Confusion, open-endedness, and celebrity certainly help too.

I’m not sure we’ll know the answers to this bizarre story any time soon. I hope we do. Until then this will be just another example of one of those special stories that captivate the country.

What do you think is going on here? Is it a hoax, a scam that Te’o is in on, or something else?

 

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Patrick currently lives in Somerville, Massachusetts, where he is studying for a Master's Degree in Intercultural Relations. Upon graduation from Penn State in 2008, he spent two years overseas in Kyrgyzstan with the U.S. Peace Corps. While writing is currently his chosen way to put food on the table, he loves fitness and exercise, which he believes makes up for his avid computer gaming habit.

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