Published January 17, 2013
As details continue to unfold surrounding Manti Te’o’s strange story of an internet girlfriend who never existed, one term keeps popping up in reference to Te’o’s saga: “Catfish.”
So what exactly is a “Catfish” and why is the term being used in connection with Te’o’s story?
As many MTV fans already know, a “Catfish” is a reference to this type of internet dating hoax. The term refers to the 2010 documentary “Catfish,” which tells the story of Nev Schulman’s quest to meet his internet girlfriend. The movie has since been turned into a reality series on MTV.
In the film, Schulman sets out to meet a woman he fell in love with online, Megan. He later discovers Megan is a completely fictional person created by a woman named Angela.
Schulman now hosts an MTV series, “Catfish: The TV show,” in which he helps online internet daters meet the subjects of their affection. On the show, many stories end up like Schulman’s.
In one memorable episode, a young woman is shocked to discover her internet boyfriend of two years is really a woman she had a conflict with who was out for revenge.
So it’s no surprise that now many are saying Te’o’s story seems similar to Schulman’s “Catfish” tales.
"I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online," he said in a statement cited by ESPN.com.
"We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is painful and humiliating. ...”
Schulman was quick to jump to Te’o’s defense, telling MTV the football star’s story is similar to his own.
"It's very embarrassing, of course. No one likes to admit that they got scammed or duped, especially when you retell the story in an abbreviated version. It generally sounds sort of ridiculous that you fell for it," Schulman told MTV. “It's hard to understand what people go through unless you're there with them, much like my story
Schulman has reached out to Te’o via Twitter.
“I know how you feel,” he wrote to Te’o. “It happened to me. I want to help tell your story & prevent this from happening to others in the future. Let’s talk.”
"Catfish: The TV show" airs Monday nights at 11 p.m. ET on MTV. Full episodes of the show are also posted on MTV.com.