Lessons Learned from Manti Te'o: How People Fall for Online Dating Hoaxes

01/23/2013

 

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Shotgun Spratling/Neon Tommy via Wikimedia Commons
The more I learn about the Manti T’eo story, the more complex and dramatic the tale becomes. One might see this as a case of truth being stranger than fiction, but first consider the following story:

 

A handsome and powerful hero is charged with leading his people to victory. A beautiful princess, who lives in a distant land, finds herself trapped by oppressive circumstances. When the hero and the princess are brought together by destiny for the first time, it’s only for an instant, before they are torn apart by outside forces. That’s when the story gets interesting. The princess needs to be saved, and the hero is the only one to save her, but he must call on the powers of fate to somehow make their love a reality.

The storyline could easily be a Disney movie, a One Direction song, or a real story of an All-American linebacker who was “Catfished” into falling in love with a fictitious woman. While some wonder how T’eo could fall for a hoax with so many inconsistencies, it’s not that hard to imagine when one thinks about our modern beliefs about falling in love with soul mates.

Online dating predators often exploit people’s hopes about finding a soul mate:

  1. Predators often gain leverage through appeals to victims’ venerable qualities, such as their sense of compassion, sympathy, and courage.
  2. Predators rely on the fact that beliefs about soul mates are not guided by reason, but by hope, which makes victims dangerously vulnerable to suspending their healthy skepticism.
  3. Online dating or social media predators prey on the fact that we live in an age of increasing isolation, when people yearn for a real connection with another, and what’s more appealing than a soul mate to end our loneliness?

Online dating and social media can be a great resource for dating, but amid all of this technology, we are wise to remember the old adage, which is that sometimes, some things are too good to be true.


Ty Tashiro is the author of The Science of Happily Ever After: What Really Matters in the Quest for Enduring Love, an entertaining look at why modern dating is so challenging, why people can easily make bad partner choices, and how science can help us make smart decisions in the search for enduring love. It's available on Amazon, Indie Bound and Barnes & Noble. Dr. Ty received his Ph.D. in psychology from the University of Minnesota. His research has appeared in top academic journals and he has been an award-winning professor at the University of Maryland and University of Colorado. Follow him on facebook and twitter.
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