Today’s social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, make it easy to “meet” someone without ever doing more than chatting online or exchanging emails. The same tools that allow for such casual contact also can be used by impostors to create intricate personas that exist only on the Internet.
All of it simply makes it that much easier to delude ourselves.
“After a generation of kids growing up with Facebook and decades of online life, you’d think we wouldn’t be so easily duped, but I think these people who do the duping are more inventive than people who use the technology,” said Steve Jones, a communications professor and online expert at the University of Illinois at Chicago.
It’s been happening since people first began mingling in chat rooms more than 20 years ago. In 2006, one mom in Missouri, Lori Drew, created a MySpace page for non-existent teenage boy so she could “romance” — and strike back at — a girl she thought was spreading rumors about her daughter. Humiliated, the targeted girl later killed herself.
“As far back as the 1980s, men were impersonating women, kids were pretending to be adults, and all kinds of relationships with non-existent or phony people flourished online,” says Paul Levinson, a professor of communication and media studies at Fordham University, who studies social media.
Now, he says, “the rise of Twitter and Facebook have only made that easier.”
Those behind Te’o’s imaginary girlfriend, for instance, created more than one Twitter account for her and appear to have used photos lifted from a California woman’s Facebook page to make it look that much more real.
“In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious,” Te’o said in a statement earlier in the week. “If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was.”