Nev Schulman, subject of the documentary "Catfish," and star of the MTV docu-drama of the same name, says he is investigating the hoax.
Until yesterday, a catfish was, well – just a fish. That changed when Notre Dame University announced that their linebacker and Heisman trophy finalist Manti Te'o had been the victim of "catfishing."
Notre Dame athletic director Jack Swarbrick confirmed at a press conference Wednesday that the story of Te'o losing his girlfriend to cancer right before a crucial game had in fact been an "elaborate and sophisticated hoax." He urged everyone to watch the 2010 documentary "Catfish" about a young man who has a romantic relationship on Facebook and the MTV show associated with it, which deals with the perils of online dating.
The Te'o girlfriend hoax set off a plethora of interest in the term "catfish," which for the uninitiated, refers to someone taking on a fake identity using Facebook or other social media, specifically with the intention of pursuing an online romance.
"Catfish" star Nev Schulman has been tweeting about the hoax since the story broke yesterday, announcing that he was going to investigate Lennay Kekua, the woman behind the Te’o hoax.
Schulman, who allowed himself to be filmed by his brother and his friend as he pursued an online relationship with an older woman posing as an attractive young girl calling herself Megan, later tweeted at Te'o': "We are all victims of a #Catfish."
Twitter: Tweet from Nev Schulman. Catfish: Nev Schulman tweet. IMAGE
Schulman tweeted Wednesday that he had information about the hoax and was "working on finding out more about this @MTeo_5 #Catfish story. I have been in contact with the woman involved and will get the truth." However, Schulman told ABC news in a statement: "I have been in touch with Donna Tei. She reached out to me back in December asking for help regarding the person who had been using her photos to create a fake profile."
It's unclear at this point whether Donna Tei is the person whose photo was used for Kekua or whether she is another person involved in the hoax. Deadspin.com reported that Donna Tei contacted Schulman on Twitter after discovering that someone involved with Kekua had used her picture for some kind of a "catfish" hoax.
Schulman also tweeted that two Twitter users had known about the Te'o hoax all along.
Twitter: Screenshot of tweet from Nev Schulman. Catfish: Nev Schulman tweet. IMAGE
Schulman is behind the MTV docu-series "Catfish: The TV Show" which helps people find out whether their online relationships are fake or real. His tweets Thursday generated a lot of feedback from Twitter users, some of whom were asking him to help Te'o. "@NevSchulman i feel like I'm watching a live show of #catfish Help him out Nev!," tweeted @newy0rkknick.
Schulman defended Te'o in an article on Mtv.com: "My reaction is, quite frankly, no different from my reaction on the show. It doesn't really change anything for me that this victim is a high-profile football player. I think it can and obviously does happen to anyone," Schulman said. "When you make a connection with someone online, oftentimes it feels a little limited, but also safe."
Schulman said that he had got "sucked into" an online relationship with Megan. What began as a casual online encounter turned into something more serious for Schulman, who gradually started receiving romantic texts from a girl he had never met. Schulman realized something was wrong when he discovered that Megan was sending him song recordings she called her own but had actually been ripped off the Internet. "it wasn't my intention, but it happened to me — and it happens slowly over time," he told MTV.
Schulman hopes that the Te'o hoax will spark a conversation about "catfishing," which he described as quickly becoming a very troubling phenomenon.
Swarbrick said that Te'o's story should serve as a warning for young people. "The social media nature of this is hard for me to get my arms around," he said at the press conference. "The way my students, my children are at risk in this environment, you just don't know what you are dealing with."