People say there’s no way Manti Te’o could have been ignorant of the falsehoods involved in a relationship with a make-believe online persona. But being caught in what’s called a “Catfish” game is becoming increasingly common. I want to share my story, which showed me there are strange people out there who get their kicks by trying to pull the wool over innocent people’s eyes. I got suspicious, and discovered it was all a ruse. Even to this day, I couldn’t tell you why it was done to me, or why anyone would spend the time and/or energy to construct such a fantasy world.
The same online personae targeted other people, especially women, in the media in my city, which I could view when I got suspicious and started digging into their Facebook accounts. The odd thing was that the faux Facebook friends pretended they were living in Great Britain, but for some reason, were connecting with people in Colorado. Eventually, I came to believe that the two Facebook accounts were run by one person, not any of the people whose pictures were posted, and likely not by anyone in England.
Here’s how I was introduced to a new Facebook “friend”, after I had posted about some sort of minor injury. The names of these users that contacted me have been changed.
Message from Joe: hows the blister ? x hows you
Message from Shannon Brinias: All better!
Message from Joe: thats good x , im a co owner of a hotel chain in the uk , im single i used to live in nyc i go to the states lots still , i live near london in surrey , please tell me abit about you shannon ? oh my names Joe hello lol
Message from Joe: brian olson says your (deleted by author for privacy reasons)
Message from Shannon Brinias: Brian should know. He gave me one of my 1st jobs in TV Thanks! How are things w/ you?
Message from Joe: im good thanks shannon x, busness is picking up more guests are staying in our hotels and xmas is nearly here im divorced and have 3 boys how about you ? have you children ? in the uk news readers from the bbc are household names and tend to stay in there jobs for years and years sometimes 30 years they feel like part of your family lol they tend to be very straght laced stiff upper lip type but satalite news has changed world news , heres a pic ive just taken on my house steps.
Good photo, right? That’s what I thought. A seemingly nice guy. I had begun posting on Facebook for work reasons, and my personal policy was to be open to new interactions in hopes of engaging with our viewers. For the most part, it has worked exactly in that manner. Through social media, I’ve connected with some excellent people who I’m glad to consider online “friends”. So I had no reason to put up my guard, especially since, as a married woman, I was ready to rebuff any romantic advance, and this person wasn’t doing anything of that nature.
But things started to get fishier in the following weeks. This particular hotelier had a “friend” in England, who had also befriended me on Facebook. Anything Joe said, his friend would chime in with a statement that seemed to be offered as proof of the original guy’s wealth, status, etc. It always would be offered in a casual, off-hand way. But as a reporter, my instincts were stirred by nagging suspicions.
Then, things came to a head, when Joe posted a lewd cartoon on my timeline, completely inappropriate in my eyes. I commented on that, saying my next step would be to de-friend Joe. That’s when an online messaging campaign started, fairly harsh and aggressive. It was mostly conducted by the “friend”, defending Joe, and posting a comment that because of Joe’s connections to Rupert Murdoch’s daughter-in-law, that I might lose my job.
The comment was made on my timeline, which has since been deleted. It was reiterated in this Facebook message exchange which I archived.
Message from John: Joe enploys over 2000 people his brother in laws owns fox news news inter sky bsb talking to him like a child isnt clever shannon also makes u look so rude
You see, previously there had been a mention of this “connection” to the mogul behind News Corporation and Fox News, Rupert Murdoch. Unfortunately for the readers here, I deleted the exchange, because it remains one of the funniest things I’ve ever read. But yes, according to this “friend”, Joe was related to the Murdoch family. That was the story. That was also the easiest thing in the world to disprove. The response made to that comment was that certainly, due to my reporting background, you could count on me to investigate that so-called “connection”.
Are you following this? Is it getting as convoluted as it was for Manti Te’o? Well, laying down a statement like that in front of a reporter like me, was like putting a sausage in front of a hungry dog. I spent several hours trolling the online postings, pictures, connections and comments made by Joe and his so-called friend. What did I find?
For one thing, although I knew these two had “friended” my co-anchor, me and several others at my TV station, I soon began to grasp that they had done the same thing to nearly every single female media personality in the market. In some cases, I could view the conversations. In at least one case, I could see that the approach was romantic, and that the recipient (a lovely reporter) was responding to the approach. The conversation seemed to indicate that they were making plans to “meet” if and when Joe ever travelled from England to Colorado.
My suspicions were aroused even further when I started combing through the photos posted online in the accounts of these two. Although Joe was supposedly divorced with children, and his friend supposedly was married, not one of their combined photos showed the two of them together, or with any other person who could be identified. If it was in a group, the others had their backs turned, or heads half cut-off. If they were pictured in a pool, or in front of a snow-covered brick wall, the location itself was totally unidentifiable. Although some of the scenery looked vaguely like an English countryside, it could have been taken on a vacation. It also could have been stolen from someone else’s published Facebook photos.
Finally, digging up biographical information on anyone connected with the Murdoch family is pretty easy. If I remember the outcome of my research correctly, the only brother-in-law of a Murdoch son (which is how Joe supposedly was related to Murdoch) lives in the U.S., not in England. He certainly isn’t an innkeeper, and by now, if you’ve followed me this far, you understand my skepticism that ANY of Joe’s story was true. Maybe he’s a bellboy IN a hotel or inn!
For me, it was enough that I disproved that there was any sort of Murdoch connection, that I went on to warn those who I feared might be getting “snowed” by this bizarre stranger, and that I ceased any communication with these two (or was it just one?) at once. I was done with it, and with them.
But I’ve often wondered since this episode, what was in it for this perpetrator? Where was the thrill in getting a number of people to believe some fake story? Did he go on to try to entice other women? Or men? Or was he even a “he” at all? It could just as easily have been a woman doing this. Was the goal romantic? Or would there be some sort of financial scam to follow?
The entire Manti Te’o story has not come out. Until he speaks, and even after then, there will be some question as to how much he may have been involved in perpetrating a fraud on the world’s sports media, on Notre Dame, and anyone else who was touched by his story. But speaking as someone who was targeted “Catfish”-style, it’s not out of the realm of my imagination that someone might go to great lengths to fake an online persona for reasons that are far from straightforward, with consequences that were never intended. The world is changing, and many things are not as innocent as they might seem.