One of the things many people have tried to wrap their heads around in regards to this whole Manti Te'o-Lennay Kekua-Ronaiah Tuiasosopo "catfishing" business is the valid question of why, exactly, anybody would do this to another person.
Deception is not exactly a novel human behavior, and full-on impersonation is even more difficult to understand.
Friday, we learned that there have been more football players being "catfished" recently. Michigan players, in fact. We also learned the culprit.
Was it another young person so desperate for the attention of these superstar athletes that they would do anything—including creating a brand new identity—to get them to talk back? Was it a malicious hacker or phisher trying to do nefarious things with their personal information?
Well, not exactly. It was actually the Michigan athletic department—going after Michigan athletes.
Here's more from Eleven Warriors writer Kyle Rowland, who was at an event at the University of Toledo where Michigan athletic director Dave Brandon was speaking.
Brandon said the athletic department catfished several athletes to teach them the dangers of social networking. Very interesting.— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) February 1, 2013
On the UM catfishing: They had an attractive female contact athletes on social media. Some athlete responses were wholly inappropriate.— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) February 1, 2013
Brandon had meeting with players, and the girl walked in. Athletes were shocked, but it was valuable lesson in dangers of social media.— Kyle Rowland (@KyleRowland) February 1, 2013
Seriously, that is happening in this world.
This heightening of awareness could very well prevent a Michigan athlete from being snookered by an ambitious hoaxster in the coming years.
It may also be the case that those lessons will be completely ignored the next time an instant message or tweet to them says something to the effect of "Hey, I'm hot and I'm here to party." After all, these are young, confident people with an affinity for attractive acquaintances.
Look, I've been catfished before (full recap here). It was 12 years ago, back before this was even a thing, and it did not progress nearly as far as Te'o's ordeal did. But I'll tell you, it's really easy to believe Te'o got suckered into this. There's nothing inexplicable about his actions.
But now, also consider the scrutiny that Tuiasosopo is under. He went from being just a random person to being on the Dr. Phil show, getting badgered about his intentions, sexuality and behavior for perpetrating this hoax on Te'o.
Whether he deserves that is a different discussion for another time and place, but the point is that doing something like that brings a lot of attention to the perpetrator.
Did Michigan's athletic department go too far?
So if the Michigan athletic department pulls something like that for the sake of proving a point, that is an amazing violation of the players' trust.
Brandon's intentions were perfectly good. It is in the players' best interests not to blindly trust the Internet. But to try to teach the players a lesson about trust by violating that trust yourself sounds an awful lot like the lessons of George Bluth and J. Walter Weatherman.
Let me put it this way: I learned a lot about trusting the Internet when I got catfished back in 2001. It also damaged my sense of general trust and led to some personality traits that I'm not particularly proud of.
If I found out that a loved one, boss, or someone else I trusted had been behind the scam, it would had been an "I think we're done here" moment.
Now, what Brandon and the Michigan athletic department did is not the same as what Tuiasosopo did—not even close. I understand that. And from an "ends justify the means" standpoint, it probably worked.
But holy moly, doesn't the Michigan athletic department have anything better to do than troll its own players on the Internet for the sake of teaching them a lesson?