Manti Te'o and the girlfriend who never was

We can all learn something very important from the story of Manti Te'o and Lennay Kekua. Photo: Manti Te'o / Associated Press

FLORIDA, January 18, 2013 — We’ve all heard about Manti Te’o and his imaginary girlfriend. How did so strange a story ever manage to play out?

The Internet is a strange place indeed. Virtually every action taken on it can be monitored, yet because of its vast expanse and impersonal nature, people are able to remain anonymous. Life is just full of ironies like this.

Lenay Keua’s life, though, is receiving a tremendous amount of media attention. Perhaps it would be better to say, her virtual life.  

In what is surely one of the strangest computer-based love triangles to have ever captivated the nation, Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o’s girlfriend has been revealed as a figment of somebody’s imagination. She, or it, pulled the heartstrings of untold millions a few months ago after news of — her, its, whatever — death in a car accident surfaced.

Making matters worse is that — I’m honestly not sure what to call this virtual girlfriend now, so I’ll just call the it by its ‘name’ from this point on — Lennay Kekua was reported to be suffering from cancer beforehand. 

Te’o claimed that both Kekua and his grandmother passed away on the same day. Needless to mention, this earned him an outpouring of public support. Now that Kekua has been exposed as a fake, though, many sports fans and other well-wishers surely have, shall we say, experienced a change of emotion.

It is anyone’s guess whether Te’o concocted a particularly cruel hoax or was in fact the victim of such a fraud. It is improper, in my opinion, for members of the media to speculate one way or the other until substantial evidence is unearthed. 

What everyone ought to recognize, however, is that in a society which places excessive importance on Internet relationships, scandals like this are bound to happen. Te’o and Kekua carried on their romance through the World Wide Web; they knew each other only in the virtual realm.

Today, people don’t even converse over the phone as they once did. Text messaging has, for many, taken the place of spoken words. In essence, forsaking verbal communication means isolating ourselves from the world around us. No small number say things online that they would not otherwise. Etiquette and decency can easily be abdicated while typing on a keyboard. Simply put, the Internet is allowing reality as it has been known for thousands of years to fall by the wayside.

No stone is being left unturned, from business to dating to journalism to politics and everything in-between.

Hopefully, the story of Te’o and Kekua will serve as a solemn reminder about what can happen when computer communications replace traditional relationships.

Hard as it might be to admit, social networking, text messaging, and downloading applications for cellular phones will never be able to match the genuine quality of a good old-fashioned fireside chat.    


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Joseph Cotto

Joseph F. Cotto is a social journalist by trade and student of history by lifestyle choice. He hails from central Florida, writing about political, economic, and social issues of the day. In the past, he was a contributor to Blogcritics Magazine, among other publications. He is currently at work on a book about American society.

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