The Daily Item, Sunbury, PA

January 18, 2013

Bullying now includes an audience

Daily Item

---- — The curious case of Manti Te'o and his apparently non-existent girlfriend gripped the nation in recent days and may still have plenty of steam. The strange events around the All-American football player from Notre Dame remains the talk of radio and television, water coolers, and gyms everywhere.

If Te'o himself elaborates on a statement released Wednesday night when the story first broke, maybe it will vaporize.

Depending on versions, Te'o, still a maturing young man at 21, was either the naïve victim of a cruel and well-planned hoax, or among the masterminds of a big-time public-relations stunt to boost his Heisman Trophy hopes.

In the grand scheme of trillion-dollar deficits and hostages being killed overseas, this is a kerfuffle in the bucket, if that.

Is the story interesting and odd? Sure. Does that mean it should lead the national news for two days? Probably not.

The story continues to roll on because in today's TMZ world, where Paris Hilton and Kim Kardashian are Googled as often as President Obama, it is how many people tick.

The attention brings to light perhaps the biggest potential pitfall within the explosion of personal publishing technology. With venues like YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and other social media avenues, there are so many ways to connect with people we have never met, or those we are trying to reconnect with. They are great tools for sure.

But they open the door for episodes just like this. Dialing up the world, allows someone to easily create a fictional person and spin a fantasy that could hook a victim. It is now easier than ever to go viral within minutes.

In this instance, it seems as if Te'o was duped with an online hoax. He was embarrassed by the situation — who wouldn't be? — and probably fueled the fire by not coming clean sooner.

But let's also remember Jacintha Saldanha -- the nurse who took the hoax call by two Australian radio disc jockeys who impersonated Queen Elizabeth II and Prince Charles. Saldanha committed suicide after leaving notes explaining why.

It is now possible to humiliate somebody on such a scale that a person can almost literally be embarrassed to death.

The Te'o situation says more about a society that not only stoops to this level to simply embarrass someone but then piles on by melting Twitter over a non-story.

This we know: Bullying includes an audience.