The thing I find most interesting about the Manti Te’o story is that pretty much every time I’ve heard it reported, part of the delivery of the story is “we think there must be more to this than they’re telling us.”
The story doesn’t add up, but that’s all they know. “We’ll get back to you on this,” they tell us, and by now we don’t underestimate any news organization’s ability to follow a dubious story to the bitter end.
Another odd element about the Te’o story is that it’s unclear what are the consequences for anyone involved. The person it seems most likely will pay much of a price is Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick, who will likely lose his job if its proven that he basically stood in front of a media audience and television cameras and lied. Other than Swarbrick, though, it could just be written off as kids being kids.
If Te’o was duped, it’s hard to tell if anyone who pulled the hoax will be prosecuted in any way. I get the feeling from what I’ve watched that they won’t. And as for the dupee, the draft experts aren’t predicting at this point that Te’o will fall very much in the draft. That’s the part of the story I don’t get. If Te’o was tricked for years into thinking someone who was made up was actually real, then that makes me seriously question his discernment.
And if he was building up the story for media attention, then clearly that’s much worse.
Unless Te’o can plead a sort of temporary insanity by claiming he was caught up in the sometimes-hard-to-navigate world of social media where the line between reality and media construction is a bit blurry.
Every day I look at Twitter. I do this for several reasons, one of which is because I just got out of bed and I want to think about something other than all of the tasks I need to do that day. But another more interesting reason is that I want to follow certain trends. I want to see what’s happening and what’s trending of course, but I also study the way people tweet. People develop tweeting styles based on the kind of Twitter image they want to construct.
Another part of my day involves writing about restaurants and events in the town where I live. Part of this process is legitimate journalism, but another part is promotion. I know the difference when I’m writing it and I’m sure the more clever members of my audience know the difference as well, but I wouldn’t choose this tact unless I thought I was fooling some people. If I write about a country band that I don’t like playing at a bar that I’ve never visited and I say it sounds like fun, then I’m lying. But I’m not being deceptive for any motive other reason than to give people an idea about how to spend their free time. I don’t lose any sleep over it.
I once read an essay by Chuck Klosterman in which he argued that Hannah Montana is the Internet because Miley Cyrus portrays a person who is a real person but who also has a constructed media personality. He argued that that’s what we’re all doing on the Internet with Facebook and Twitter. I would estimate I reference this essay in 10 percent of conversations that I have in any (real) social setting.
So given that people under the age of 25 have grown up with this kind of dichotomy, and given that those of us who are older would kind of like to get in on this gig, then maybe Te’o will slide by without getting hurt financially.
I think Te’o could ultimately admit to perpetuating this story if his somber confession mostly puts the blame on social media and if he claims to have learned a profound lesson about the ever-changing world in which we live.
He could even point out that what really went wrong was that his media construct worked too well.
Photo via Fox Sports.
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