This week, Deadspin broke the news that Notre Dame football star Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend--one of the most heartbreaking sports stories of last year--was a hoax. The fake girlfriend was created by a 22-year-old guy named Ronaiah Tuiasosopo. Turns out, Tuiasosopo might've engineered other false personalities, too. We had to ask: What would make someone do that?
The short answer is, some people look at the internet and, subconsciously, see a chance to experiment with identities, free of consequences. Those people can be shy or outgoing, cheerleader or geek, but there seems to be some kind of personality type that changes when given a megaphone and the shelter of anonymity. We don't know who, exactly, will be the ones to open up--it's even debatable if it's an "opening up" or a chance to act out of character--but for some reason, there's a small segment of the population that's prone to deception, given the right forum.
Sure, everyone lies a little. Technology has--and has always--helped us fudge the truth. Jeremy Birnholtz, an assistant professor at Northwestern University, studies so-called "butler lies," small fibs created by the ambiguity of technology or gadgets in the vein of a butler telling a visitor the master isn't available. Running late? Tell your friend his text didn't go through; he's got no way to pin it on you, anyway. A face-to-face conversation takes away some of that ambiguity.
If we wanted to extrapolate to bigger lies, we can look at a related, widely cited theory about anonymity: the online disinhibition effect. It's worth reading the entire article, but the short version says giving people a platform--especially one where they're invisible--is enough to make them act out. What we can't say for sure is who's going to exhibit the effect. The paper's author, John Suler of Rider University, explains why:
One of the pillars of his theory is the "minimization of status and authority," the idea that everyone is equal in front of a screen, and it makes sense that someone less concerned with authority might be more likely to lie.
What's more, Birnholtz explains, social media has made lies more viable by changing our expectations for truth. He says the leading theory of online identity used to be reminiscent of the old New Yorker cartoon: "On the Internet, nobody knows you're a dog." In other words: people use the web to try out a different identity.
But recent research shows that's not what's happening, Birnholtz says. People, for the most part, just want to be themselves online. In fact, the truth is the rule, not the exception, for the most popular forms of social media.
That guy with a throw-away account in the comments section or on Reddit could be a doctor, sure, but most people aren't banking on that. Take Facebook. It's a supremely self-correcting ecosystem. You can lie, but the expectation for truth is high enough that the lie will be pointed out. In other words, so many people aren't lying that users are primed to expect the truth. All of those fake share-this-to-donate-money links on the social web keep getting shared for a reason.
It's a tangled web we weave: Yes, (some) people are more likely to act out, and deceive, on the internet. Today's internet is more widely self-correcting, but at the same time, a subconscious expectation of truth might make us less prepared when a lie does come. Might not be such a bad idea to always assume you're talking with a dog.
Actually, I lie more in person than I do online. Online I can be blunt, outspoken, judgemental, honest, sometimes even mean...I can truly be myself without apology or social consequences. In real life I have to "behave," I have to maintain my social bridges.
Example: Recently I told someone that I would never see him again (real life) despite the fact that he wanted to stay friends and stay in contact with me, I wanted nothing more to do with him. I talked for forty-five minutes about how everything had bad timing, that he deserved to be happy, etc. If it was 'Magoonski' talking? "You're socially inept and being around you is a chore." It's harsh which is why I didn't say it to his face. Even though I was never (I'm keeping my fingers crossed) going to see him again I still was 'nice.' You may think that I have it all confused. "Isn't being nice a good thing?" No, that guy is going to forever have delusions about how he acts and will continue his bad behaviors because I didn't give him honest feedback. Yes, it would hurt his feelings but sometimes we have to endure the pain if we want to heal properly.
I'm not Leonard's mom (the neuroscientist), but the simple answer to your question...if you can't find a real girlfriend then just make one up. I'm sure you PopSci guys can understand. (Yeah sorry, I'm making fun of you.)
There are many positive advantages to an invisible friend. Sure, in modern times it’s a fake internet girlfriend, but it still o'faithful, our invisible friend. It could be worse\(maybe better, lol), it could be a 6'3.5" rabbit friend, named Harvey. ;)
RENT THE MOVIE! It is for family and timeless.
Have you all forgotten about the fake girlfriend Obama wrote about in his autobiography?
Who cares? This has gotten way too much attention which is probably what the hoax was intended for.