A kid is new to Facebook. He is looking to build his network so he “friends” everyone with whom he has mutual friends. It doesn’t even matter if he knows these people. That’s how it’s done.
The problem is that he might end up with people he really does not want in his network like the grandmother of a few friends or the mother. I have gotten numerous friend requests from random middle schoolers who clearly have no idea who I am, but are likely “friends” with my children and their friends.
Another problem is that fake people sneak in this way. I know of at least one or two adults who have created a fake persona to get a pulse on the children in their lives. They have been stunned by how fast their network grows with little effort on their parts.
In real life if you have mutual friends, chances are you will meet. In cyber life, it may be that you and your mutual friends barely know someone. But it feels like you do. After all, you probably know what they ate for lunch, what bothers them, what sports they play, what music they like and what annoys them.
You know what they look like and what they wore to the prom. But, you still don’t know them and you certainly don’t know if they are real. Even if they are real, are they showing their real selves or projecting an image?
There is a huge divide between knowing someone and being a cyber-friend. We all need to know the difference.
It is these trends that make the unusual story of Manti Te’o and his fake girlfriend probable. That is why so many of us feel duped on multiple levels. What is the take away for us and for our children?
There is probably so much more to this story that will come out in the coming weeks and months, but regardless of how this plays out, there are a few indisputably disturbing facts.
For those who need an update: Manti T’eo is a gifted linebacker for Notre Dame and was a finalist for the Heisman Trophy. His stellar season was marked by his ability to play well even though both his grandmother and girlfriend were said to have died during the season.
This week, it turns out that his girlfriend, who he “met” online never existed. Whether he was duped or in on the ruse is still in question, but he and officials at Notre Dame claim he was the target of a cruel and mean spirited hoax.
If we take his word for it, it raises some really strange questions about what is actually real in today’s world where the cyber often seems real. Could T’eo really be in love with someone he obviously never met in person?
If we take him at his word, he’s not the only one tricked. He has plenty of company in the mainstream and sports media. Trusted outlets like Sports Illustrated, ESPN and many others lapped up this story of success in the face of adversity. Didn’t anyone in the mainstream press look for an obituary, attend a funeral?
When “facts” go viral, they seem real and true, but it is often the same rumor getting repeated over and over again through social media. Journalists should still go to primary sources. “Friends” should still make sure they really know each other.