Thursday, January 17, 2013

Notre Dame, Manti Te'o, Catfishing, Online Impersonation, and the Law

Notre Dame has one of the most storied college football programs in the country.  From the Gipper to Knute Rockne to Ara Parseghian to Rudy to Joe Montana, Notre Dame has a great reputation for winning with mystic and honor.  Unfortunately, a recent incident may temporarily tarnish Notre Dame's reputation.

Notre Dame's biggest star Manti Te'o who led the Fighting Irish to the BCS championship game this year and was 2nd in the recent Heisman Trophy voting was allegedly a victim of an online hoax.  During this past season, Manti Te'o's grandmother passed away and then within the same week his alleged girlfriend also died.  Having more than one person you are close with die in such a short period of time may be very difficult to handle and Manti Te'o received a tremendous amount of media attention during this past season partly because of it, and because he was the biggest star on the Notre Dame football team.

There were many red flags about this story that the media and Manti Te'o should have picked up on months ago.  Unfortunately, it appears that Manti Te'o did not realize he had been allegedly catfished until recently.  According to the Urban Dictionay, catfishing occurs when someone utilizes social media to create a false identify to pursue an online romance.

In general, catfishing is not against the law.  Multiple states have online impersonation laws that make it a crime to impersonate an actual person.  However, both California and Washington state's law focus on impersonating real people and not those who are part of someone's imagination.  Other states such as Arizona are also trying to pass legislation banning online impersonation. Unfortunately, some of these laws may infringe on the First Amendment and may eventually be declared unconstitutional.

This incident may cost Manti Te'o tens of millions of dollars in potential earnings.  Even though he did not win the Heisman Trophy or the BCS national championship, Manti Te'o had a good story and was a great college player.  However, NFL teams who were thinking about selecting him in the upcoming NFL draft may think twice about someone who either fell for an online hoax or who may have been part of an alleged marketing scheme.

Until all of the facts have been verified it is too soon to determine whether Manti Te'o was catfished or he intentionally perpetuated misinformation for personal gain.  I am giving Manti Te'o the benefit of the doubt at this point because it appears that he was at some point a victim and continued to be a victim of a cruel joke for a period of time.  Manti Te'o may have continued perpetuating the misleading statements about his alleged girlfriend after learning the truth out of embarrassment that he fell for it. 

Unfortunately, NFL teams and potential sponsors may not want to spend millions of dollars on someone who was allegedly duped in such a public manner.  Despite this incident, I believe an NFL team may take a chance on Manti Te'o because he may have a chip on his should to prove this incident was an aberration and that he has the talent to become a great NFL player.    

Until all the facts have been verified, it is too early to determine if an online impersonation law may apply to this situation.  There are reports that the photograph(s) of a real person was utilized; if so, that may help determine if an online impersonation law may be applicable.

The bottom line is that one must always be careful when dealing with others online and if someone doesn't have a phone and/or can't meet you in person that may indicate you are being catfished.

To learn more about these issues you may contact me at http://shearlaw.com.

Copyright 2013 by the Law Office of Bradley S. Shear, LLC. All rights reserved.