According to UrbanDictionary.com, a “catfish” is “someone who pretends to be someone they are not online to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.” While the 2010 film documentary of the same name brought the issue to light in the mainstream, the most recently publicized case of catfishing involving a University of Notre Dame football player highlights all the reasons why due diligence must be put in place when interacting with online personas, particularly from a marketing standpoint.
The story of Mant Te’o, defensive linebacker for the Fighting Irish of Notre Dame, is emblematic of the deceit that can very easily take place in the online world. In case you haven’t heard his story, Te’o is now at the heart of an Internet hoax involving him, a fake girlfriend, and that fake girlfriend’s death. After establishing an online relationship with an individual whom Te’o assumed was female (and real) on the microblogging site Twitter, the football player was recently presented with evidence that says otherwise. Unfortunately, reality online is not always the same as it is offline.
Due to Te’o’s notoriety as a standout player with one of college football’s most storied programs, his girlfriend’s death soon became common knowledge amongst sports fans, particularly since he attributed his on-field success to her legacy. With her mere existence being part of a much larger hoax at this point, it is a sad fact that those whom we interact with on social media sites and online forums may not always be who they say they are. Just as Te’o’s image has undoubtedly been affected by this hoax, so too can a brand’s image be negatively impacted by deceitful practices online.