By Tim Hayes

This may go down as one of the most painful and embarrassing cases of pen-pal fraud in history.  And it offers a lesson for anyone foolish enough to rely on social media as a suitable substitute for personal interaction.

Notre Dame senior linebacker Manti Te’o has been exposed as never having an actual girlfriend whose purported death during the recent football season became a flashpoint for the team’s undefeated record and Te’o’s own award-winning performance on the field.

When the news first came out, the assumption was that Te’o had been a willing participant in the deception, which would draw serious doubts about his character.  This not only would fly in the face of his image as a quality individual, but would splatter collateral PR damage to the reputation of Notre Dame itself.

As more information dribbled out, however, the story began to turn from disgust to disbelief.  A statement issued by Te’o read, in part:

“This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone’s sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating. In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.


Imagine the lengths to which whomever was behind this plot had to go.  It’s almost like a bad episode of “Dallas” or “Dynasty.”  What sort of mind thinks of something like this?  Who has the time or the energy to keep it up for so long?  And to what purpose?  To embarrass someone you don’t like for whatever reason?  It’s baffling.

Te’o is still a young man.  He has much to learn about people and what they are capable of doing.  It certainly sounds like he’s learned a lot through this mess, unfortunately with the entire ESPN nation having a front-row seat to his schooling.

When I work with clients regarding professional behavior and communications approaches in the workplace, one of the central themes is that face-to-face interaction always works best.  You eliminate the variables, the chances of being misinterpreted, when you can see and hear and experience the whole version of the person with whom you are communicating.

Relying on Facebook and Twitter and the telephone only?  It’s easy to miss all of the signals.  You’re not getting the full picture, the full message, the full meaning.  

“I fear the day when technology will surpass our human interaction. The world will have a generation of idiots,” said Albert Einstein, no slouch, he.  Social media works wonders, no argument there.  But people need to interact directly with other people, if we are to keep this rickety, bucket-of-bolts society together.  Manti Te’o knows this today, having learned it in the hardest, most humiliating way possible.

Copyright 2013 Tim Hayes Consulting