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September 21, 2023

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Te’o, Steubenville show issues with social media

Stop me if you’ve heard this one.

So a Notre Dame football player and his girlfriend walk into a bar. Just kidding, there’s no bar and the girlfriend doesn’t exist.

Manti Te’o didn’t win the Heisman Trophy, but if there were an ESPY award for the most bizarre sports story of the year, the senior defensive standout would have earned all four nominee slots.

If you’re waking up from a coma — first off, congratulations — let’s recap.

Te’o had a girlfriend he’d met a few times who supposedly died following complications of leukemia. They mostly interacted online, him playing his season in Notre Dame and her undergoing treatment in California.

Incredulous and long story short, the two never met, she never existed, the world is mostly convinced he made her up for publicity (for which he received a lot of following her “death”) and he claims he was duped.

The investigation by, a sports news website, delved into the tangled mess of social media accounts involved in the story. Tweets by the hundreds from Te’o, his “girlfriend” and the people he claims were behind the hijinx had either been buried, deleted or saved by other media aggregates.

It’s an absolute horde of confusion trying to figure out which accounts posted which messages when, and who the real people behind many of these anonymous accounts are.

Of the beauty and aggravation of technology, these situations represent modern struggles of human development.

Perhaps the Twitter bird logo should be replaced by a Firebird, the Russian folk legend who is said to be a blessing and a curse to its captor.

Curse indeed.

So it was — in a far more serious scenario — the case of the alleged rape of an underage teenage girl from Steubenville High School.

Four hundred miles east of Te’o and the Fighting Irish, two players on the Steubenville football team were indicted this past August after allegedly raping a girl at a series of local parties.

Soon after came reports that the players and party bystanders tweeted comments and even photos of the incident. Eventually, online hackers found a video of some students supposedly bragging and discussing what happened at the party.

For better or worse, we as a society embrace our newfound technology. Perhaps too much.

The question remains of our changing world — how much should people be responsible for their online messages and identities?

Can Facebook messages or tweets be used as de facto confessions? If so, what about the reality that anyone can conceivably hack into someone’s account and post something irreprehensible?

Regardless of what becomes of Te’o or the Steubenville players, what seems obvious is that our society will continue to produce more situations of convoluted online trickery. Worse, people can delete comments, photos and whatever other incriminating evidence exists, far easier than in “real life” — making investigations nearly impossible.

The lesson, therefore, shouldn’t just be to “watch what you post online.” In these cases, technology only seems to encourage and aid our already-existing flaws or crimes.

We as a society must adapt to face these new challenges, both criminologically and in our daily choices of what to post and tweet.

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