Joseph Cotto, 7/28/2015 [Archive]

Manti Te'o and the Threat of Online Relationships

By Joseph Cotto

The Internet is a strange place.

Virtually every action taken on it can be monitored, yet because of its vast expanse and impersonal nature, people are able to remain anonymous. Life is just full of ironies like this.

One story takes the cake in illustrating the World Wide Web's sometimes perverse power. Despite having taken place only two years ago, it seems to have already faded from our pop-cultural memory. Losing sight of such a cautionary tale is something every single of us can come to regret.

In what is surely one of the strangest computer-based love triangles, then-Notre Dame football player Manti Te'o's girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, was revealed as a figment of somebody's imagination. Just a few months before, she pulled the heartstrings of untold millions when news of her death in a car accident surfaced.

Making matters worse is that Kekua was reported to be suffering from cancer beforehand.

Te'o met Kekua — who in reality was a young man named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo — online and fell deeply in love with what he thought to be a beautiful woman. After seeing the pictures Tuiasosopo used to perpetrate his fraud, one can hardly scoff. Still, T'eo allowed himself to become romantic with a person he never met; misleading even close family about their lack of a face-to-face meeting.

In a particularly gruesome twist, Te'o was told that 'Kekua' died on the same day as his grandmother. Needless to mention, after the news went viral, he found an outpouring of public support. After it was discovered that Tuiasosopo — who seems to have been truly enamored with Te'o — used a living person's photos in place of 'Kekua', sorrow turned to shock.

It is undeniable that Te'o was the victim of a cruel hoax, deserving only the utmost compassion. At the same time, we ought to recognize that in a society which places excessive importance on Internet relationships, mayhem like this is bound to happen. Te'o and 'Kekua' carried on their romance through the Net; they knew each other only in the virtual realm.

Today, people don't even converse over the phone as they once did. Text messaging has, for many, taken the place of spoken words. In essence, forsaking verbal communication means isolating ourselves from the world around us. No small number say things online that they would not in person. Etiquette and decency can easily be abdicated while typing on a keyboard. Simply put, the Internet is allowing reality as it has been known for thousands of years to fall by the wayside.

No stone is being left unturned, from business to dating to journalism to politics and everything in-between.

Today, Te'o is happy and healthy, and entering his third season in the NFL with the San Diego Chargers. Hopefully, his story will serve as a solemn reminder about what can happen when computer communications replace traditional relationships.

Hard as it might be to admit, social networking, text messaging, and downloading applications for cellular phones will never be able to match the genuine quality of a good old-fashioned fireside chat.


Copyright 2015 Joseph Cotto, distributed exclusively by Cagle Cartoons newspaper syndicate.

Joseph Cotto is a historical and social journalist, and writes about politics, economics and social issues. Email him at [email protected]

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