Manti Te’o and the Nigerian Scammers
The ballad of Manti Te’o is still being written, but you can count me in the camp of believers that think he was duped.
Other than placing an asterisk on any accomplishments this young man may go on to achieve, there is another takeaway from this story. Online, I have been known under many pseudonyms (of which my personal favorite was Grand_Admiral_Thrawn_19 on the MSN Gaming Zone). The Internet has always been a gateway for the anonymous; hence the name of the most powerful terrorist activist group around today. It would have been tough for anyone to anticipate the depth to which this connection of networks would drive our lives, but I believe it is time to re-evaluate the anonymity the World Wide Web allows us to have.
For those of you familiar with the Bill Lawrence-led show Scrubs, Dr. Cox had one line that stuck with me forever, and I think it is vital to understanding our constant need for online privacy. If our habits on the Internet were broadcast for all to see, would you access the same material? Only recently was pornographic material passed for usage on the web, and it was passed by my biggest problem with the world today – social networking.
Full disclosure: I currently make my living working for a communications firm, and a big part of what I do is discuss the social media impact and strategy that our clients face. When I was ~a year away from finishing my degree from SFU, I realized that as a communications major, I had spent a staggering percentage of my time discussing the impact of social networks. A little frightened of the impact this would have on my job prospects, I began to reflect.
I first started university before Facebook was a thing. In fact, I’m fairly certain that MySpace didn’t exist yet. Certainly I had used message boards and chat rooms, and the big ideas behind the phenomenon were in place, but the centralization of these ideas had yet to reach a mainstream appeal. It was only nerds and the desperately lonely (read: me in primary/secondary school) who would use these technologies. While we were using these chatrooms, I would have any number of temporary pseudonyms, typically fixated around whatever my hobby of the day was. One day I might be expressing my undying support of Eddie Guerrero, other days I may try to force a pun about Admiral Ackbar.
The point that I’m rambling to is this – in this world, your name means a lot. We should be proud of who we are and the resume we have accomplished. As of the age of 18, you enter the world of adults, and its time to be accountable. By putting your name alongside your actions, you take a risk of being associated with your ideas forever. The Internet, to this point, has allowed us to wear a mask, and say or do anything that we want without fear of our friends, family, teachers or coworkers being able to identify with our actions.
There is a time and a place for our outlets, but the ability to stay anonymous, I believe, does more damage than good. If my take on the story is true, Manti Te’o will spend the rest of his life the butt-end of jokes and criticism.
Imagine if you had gone through what he just did. You spend your whole life dedicated to a cause and working towards your goals. Through the increase in digital social networks, you meet someone who shares these same ideas, and needs your help. As you develop a real relationship (in your mind) with this person, you find out that he or she is dying, and all they want is your comfort.
After months of this, and on a day that you are already dealing with the loss of your grandmother, you find out this person you have fallen in love with has died. The overwhelming sense of loss would be so much to bear, but you find a way to honor them. Now imagine, the day after Christmas, the first spent without your grandmother, you find out that you were the punch line in someone’s joke for the past few years.
Then imagine the entirety of the Internet, anonymous and cruel in lieu of supervision, feels it is now their right to question everything about you and have discussions at your expense. You have broken no law, you have done nothing wrong, but the hive mind, with no risk of being held accountable for their actions, strips you down to nothing, and labels you with this story.
If there was identity verification, such as the proposed hypothes.is or even the advantage of logging in with Facebook (which I do not endorse, but see as a path to disclosure), how much of this could have been prevented. Mr Te’o would likely not have faced this humiliation at the hands of the masses, and even if he had, we would all be held accountable for our snap judgmenets, attached to our name, for all to see.