Manti Te'o fake girlfriend Lennay Kekua hoax: What is ‘catfishing'?

CLEVELAND - In a press conference Wednesday night addressing the purported fake girlfriend hoax involving Notre Dame Linebacker Manti Te'o, the school's athletic director Jack Swarbrick called the incident a case of ‘catfishing.'

"I would refer all of you, if you're not already familiar with it, with both the documentary called "Catfish," the MTV show which is a derivative of that documentary," Swarbrick said.

So just what was Swarbrick talking about?

"Catfish" is a 2010 documentary about two filmmakers who follow their colleague Nev Schulman's online relationship with a woman on Facebook.

The film tracks what ultimately becomes a ruse, the woman Schulman talks to posing as someone else through photos and a personality that weren't her own.

MTV airs a series spawned from the movie, "Catfish: The TV Show." In this episodic version, Schulman and his filmmaking friend Max Joseph help people discover the truth about their online relationships. They work to set up meetings, which uncover the mystery.

The show's site defines the verb "catfish" as: "To pretend to be someone you're not online by posting false information, such as someone else's pictures, on social media sites usually with the intention of getting someone to fall in love with you."

But the idea of "catfishing" is more complex. The term spawns from a soliloquy by one of the film version's characters about catfish being put in a tank with cod and keeping them active.

People who "catfish" keep others on their toes but can also use the method to inject meaning into their own lives.

In a recent episode on MTV, one person "catfishes" because he doesn't like himself and channels what he wants to be through the online personas he assumes. Meeting the person he dupes helps him realize the consequences of his actions.

"As hard as it is for me to get my arms around this, there's apparently some sport in doing this, in being able to do it successfully," Swarbrick said.

Te'o is in the limelight, as much remains unanswered about the bizarre story of the Heisman candidate's relationship with a woman named Lennay Kekua, who Deadspin reports never existed.

"To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating," Te'o said in a statement released Wednesday night.

Arizona Cardinals Fullback Reagan Mauia alleges he met Kekua in a story reported by The Big Lead.

Stories from numerous established and respected outlets, including ESPN and Sports Illustrated, cite Te'o's grief in dealing with the deaths of his girlfriend who had cancer and grandmother in a period of less than 24 hours.

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