It’s been said time and time again to me since I first started to use the internet: “Don’t trust anyone that you talk to online.” Though the advice was given to me and many others, it seems to be largely ignored when it comes to online dating. Whether in high profile stories like the saga of football player Manti Te’o’s fake girlfriend or a dishonest online sweetheart a relative of mine encountered, online dating is rife with mendacity—enough to call into question who the true victim is.
Leading sports news site Deadspin broke news on Jan. 16 that famed Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te’o’s heartfelt story of his girlfriend and grandmother dying within 24 hours of each other was partially a hoax: The site revealed that Lennay Marie Kekua, Te’o’s supposed girlfriend, never existed. Allegedly, the fake profile was created by a man identified by ESPN as Ronaiah Tuiasosopo and an unidentified man and woman.
After the scandal broke, many were quick to comment that Te’o was entirely at fault because he was naive enough to believe that this woman existed with little verification, he deserved what happened to him. After all, it is common knowledge that the internet is liable to misrepresentation.
No matter the number of warning signs there were for Te’o, he should not take the blame for what happened. This deception happened to him, and the focus should instead be on those who deceived him.
Tuiasosopo’s group allegedly created this character and had her “date” Te’o before fabricating her death. Their reasoning for this curelty is unclear, though I suspect they sought a disturbing kind of pleasure from knowing that someone was hurt because of their actions, a situation similar to an online personality a relative of mine encountered.
At 14 years old, she met Chyna online in late 2007. Chyna, living in Fayetteville, North Carolina, was 14 also. After talking for about a month, they began their cyber relationship.
Everything seemed “normal” about their online romance until one of Chyna’s friends mysteriously died the day after talking to my family member in late May. In conversation, the friend said something along the lines of, “Wouldn’t it be weird if I just died tomorrow?” The next day, he died— or at least, that is what Chyna claimed.
That was the first of the weird instances that befell Chyna and her friends.
In late June 2008, a girl professing to be Chyna’s younger sister called my relative. She said that Chyna was hospitalized and breathing with an oxygen tube. With this falsehood, my young relative was not the only victim: Chyna and this “younger sister” even convinced my family member’s 50 year old mom of the story.
Weeks after her alleged hospitalization in July 2008, my relative and her mother visited Chyna in North Carolina. Chyna said that they couldn’t visit while her mom was home because she didn’t know that Chyna was gay and dating someone, particularly someone she met over the internet.
My family member’s mom apprehensively approved of their relationship, but had concerns that Chyna physically looked a lot younger than 14 and that they were too young to have a long distance relationship. But she liked Chyna, and they had a nice visit for a few days when the girl’s mom was not home.
A few weeks after the visit, my relative received a call from Chyna’s mother. Apparently, Chyna told her mother about the relationship she was having and that they had met in their home.
Her mother was furious and called my relative a pedophile for dating an 11-year old. She was taken aback. This entire time, she thought Chyna was also 14. Her mom said that even the story about being in a hospital and nearly dying was a complete lie. Chyna didn’t even have a younger sister.
For weeks afterward, I saw my relative withdraw from school, her friends, and being around our family. It was heartbreaking to hear her sobbing at night or watch her cry into her mom’s shoulders.
After the whole ordeal, Chyna never gave an explanation to her actions. No remorse and no apology.
Looking back, maybe my relative was being a bit naive. After all, she was 14 when it happened. But Chyna even convinced my family member’s 50 year old mom that all of these events really occurred.
So when people claim that it is Te’o’s own fault for falling for an online hoax, I can only hope that they realize it could happen to them, their friends, or even one of their family members.