The course of true love never did run smooth, but the course of fake love by way of social media is another kettle of – well, something smelly, barbed and bottom-feeding.
To be duped online, in current lingo, is to be “catfished” – a term derived from the 2010 documentary Catfish. That’s apparently what happened to Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o, who inspired teammates and fans by playing last season under a terrible burden of grief.
In September, he announced that his girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, had died of leukemia within six hours of his grandmother. But it’s since been discovered that Kekua never existed, and last month Notre Dame declared that its star was the victim of a cruel online hoax. Te’o, however, claimed earlier that he had spent time with the woman – which raises the question of who was hoaxing whom. When it comes to catfishing, the truth gets easily muddied. In the doc, filmmakers Henry Joost and Ariel Schulman document Ariel’s brother Nev and his burgeoning Facebook relationship with a 19-year-old aspiring singer, Megan. Then, Megan and her family turn out to be the online fabrications of an emotionally disturbed wife and mother named Angela. Or, maybe not.
Filmmaker Morgan Spurlock is among the critics who consider Catfish itself to be a clever fake. The directors went on to direct the fake horror documentary Paranormal Activity 3, and in November launched the MTV show Catfish: The TV Show, in which people confront Internet hoaxsters. Host Nev Schulman has promised to investigate the Te’o incident. The title comes from a factually doubtful monologue in the film by Angela’s husband, Vince, who describes a practice of placing catfish in cod tanks to keep the cod agile and alert. The moral is as clear as sediment: Your online fake friends are actually your real friends because they keep you alert to deceit.