Jeff Hancock, a professor of communication and of computer and information science, is a frequent social media analyst on national news shows and co-author of the landmark study on honesty in online reviews. His research focuses on how we communicate through new media and how those new connections change the way we live. He comments on the controversy surrounding heralded Heisman Trophy runner-up Manti Te’o’s imaginary girlfriend.
“The case of Manti Te'o's dead girlfriend seems like a perfect storm of internet deception phenomena: identity deception, Munchausen by Internet Syndrome, and hyper-personal relationships.
The first and most obvious deception is using technology to fake an identity with relative ease. It seems like the girlfriend is a complete fabrication, though it’s not clear what the ‘girlfriend’ sent to Manti Te'o.
“The second is Munchausen by Internet Syndrome, in which people fake illnesses online to gain sympathy from others. The serious car crash and suffering leukemia combination is highly unusual and probably related to someone faking medical problems for sympathy.
“Lastly is the kind of intense, or hyper-personal, relationships that people can form online. Although it seems strange, interacting with another person only via text and the phone can lead to highly intimate and trusting interactions.
“Rarely do we see all of these come together at once, and with such a famous victim.”
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