In fact, the girlfriend Te’o said he had visited never existed. Instead her identity has been tied to a male acquaintance named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo, a 22-year-old band leader at a church in Antelope Valley, Calif., and a member of a prominent NFL football family.
Mr. Tuiasosopo at one point had the picture used by the Lennay “catfish,” which turned out to be a photo of a classmate who had nothing to do with the fraud. When confronted about using the image, BuzzFeed reports, Tuiasosopo “acted weird” and the picture disappeared off the Internet.
On Friday, ESPN quoted an unnamed friend of Te’o as saying that Tuiasosopo tearfully confessed to the hoax in early December, saying that at first he was just playing a “game” on Te’o but also acknowledging he had engaged in catfishing before.
According to ESPN, the friend, a woman in her mid-20s, said Tuiasosopo told her that Te’o “was not involved at all, he was a victim.”
On Wednesday, Te’o expressed his “incredible embarrassment” and called it a hoax, though he had continued to talk about Kennau as his girlfriend even after he informed the university that he had been a victim of fraud.
Those willing to exploit the vulnerable goodwill of others have always been hanging around the fringes of society, of course, but the social media age has given the practice a different and disturbing spin: It’s as if the very anonymity of the Internet morphs into a tendency toward faith in other people.
“There is a widespread sense, perhaps untrue, that people can be most ‘real’ when they are most hidden – that all of us are Cyranos who can only speak our true minds when our faces and names are invisible. It’s a lovely notion … [but] it makes us oblivious to flaming red flags,” the Washington Post’s Monica Hesse wrote Thursday.