"Catfish," a term popularized by the 2010 film, is used to describe someone who creates a false identity using the relative anonymity of social media. The film documented Nev Schulman's intense online relationship with a girl who (spoiler alert!) turned out to be a middle-aged woman.
With the sports world still reeling from Deadspin's astounding story about Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o's fake dead girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, MTV asked Schulman -- now starring in MTV's "Catfish" spinoff series -- for this thoughts on Te'o's claims that he had been duped into believing his girlfriend was real.
Schulman battled similar skepticism when his movie first came out, so he's sympathetic to the possibility that Te'o is completely innocent.
"My reaction is, quite frankly, no different from my reaction on the show. It doesn't really change anything for me that this victim is a high-profile football player. I think it can and obviously does happen to anyone," Schulman told MTV after the Te'o scandal came to light.
When you make a connection with someone online, oftentimes it feels a little limited, but also safe. And people, strangely, are more comfortable sharing information about themselves sometimes with strangers online, simply because it's someone who is outside of their normal circle of friends, much in the same way you share things with a therapist. People get very close with these online friends.
Of course, when you read an article all at once where it reveals all these stories and all these details, it seems crazy, but in the process of it, as it happens very slowly, things don't seem so crazy. And then, of course, when you look at it all in one snapshot, it does sort of seem kind of unbelievable.
It could happen to anyone, Schulman added. "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," he said.
Schulman is so sympathetic, in fact, that he decided to take on Te'o's case, tweeting his support for the 21-year-old football player.
.@mteo_5 I know how you feel. It happened 2 me. I want 2 help tell ur story & prevent this from happening to others in the future. Lets talk— Nev Schulman (@NevSchulman) January 17, 2013
Sculman tweeted Thursday that he'd discovered two people who say they knew Kekua was fake.