SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Opinion

January 31, 2013

Our view: Facebook, Te'o and the limits of 'friendship'

There are plenty of cautionary stories out there about the underworld of social media, but none has captured the nation’s attention quite like the tale of Diane O’Meara.

O’Meara’s strange tale demonstrates that no one who uses social media tools such as Facebook should fall into a false sense of security based on “privacy settings,” nor put much stock in a naive belief that the word “friend” has the same meaning in social media as it does in the world where friends actually meet in person. Many people amass hundreds, and in some cases thousands, of Facebook “friends” with whom they share personal and sometimes intimate information. As O’Meara learned, they do so at their own peril.

O’Meara is a 23-year-old woman from Los Angeles who describes herself as a “media executive and consumer Internet analyst.” By all accounts, she has a more savvy understanding of social media than the average Facebook user. But that didn’t stop her from becoming caught up in the biggest social media scandal that the nation has seen.

She had no idea that for months her personal photos — grabbed by a Facebook “friend” — had been used as the face of Lennay Kekua, the fictional girlfriend of Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o. Te’o had carried on an Internet social relationship with this “girlfriend” for months and went into mourning when he received the shocking news in September that she had died of leukemia. The story of Te’o’s grief made national headlines, and certainly earned him sympathy.

But it was all a lie, exposed in vivid detail in recent weeks. Te’o has claimed he was hoodwinked, the victim of a scam.

Not everyone believes him, but it is hard to discount the fact that O’Meara is a true victim in this charade.

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