Brandon, on the lookout for another "teachable moment." (US Presswire)
The Internet: Just another harmless outlet for sports, smut and cat videos? Or a dark, shadowy web of deception where nothing is what it seems and everyone is at risk? Both, perhaps, but where Michigan athletes are concerned, athletic director Dave Brandon appears to be more interested in the latter.
Speaking at an event in Toledo, Ohio, on Friday morning, Brandon told the audience his department recently hired two outside consulting firms to monitor the online activity of Wolverine athletes, a move he described as "risk assessment," with interesting results. From the Toledo Blade:
One of the two consulting groups – neither whom Brandon identified – utilized a young, attractive woman to go online and contact student-athletes.
Did anyone take the bait? Some of them did, and established contact online with her.
The unnamed woman turned over to athletic department officials posts and comments that were made to her, and the names of student-athletes. During a presentation to Michigan's student-athletes regarding social media awareness, the athletic department introduced the woman to the student athletes.
Brandon described some of the responses to the woman's virtual overtures as "wholly inappropriate," and said athletes were "shocked" when she turned up at the meeting. As a result, the chastened Wolverines will never demonstrate interest in another attractive woman again, or something.
Head coach Brady Hoke was in on the experiment, as well, as he told several hundred high school coaches at an event earlier this month:
"Before [a consultant] came in, we gave him 20 Facebook accounts of guys on our team," coach Brady Hoke said... "He had his assistant, she tried to talk to our guys. 'Hey, what are ya doin'?' Whatever it might be.
"Well, two months later we're in a team meeting and we're on the topic of what you put out there in the cyber universe. You should have seen 115 guys when that young lady – she was hot, now; a very, very nice-looking young lady – when she walked into that meeting room, and the guys looking at each other. Because some of them didn't use their heads when communicating back and forth with that young lady."
Of course, Michigan's attempt at cautionary subterfuge didn't originate in a vacuum. To recap (in case you've spent the last month glued to a marathon session of FarmVille), "catfishing" is the catchall term for intentionally deceiving another person about one's real identity online, initially coined by the 2010 documentary, "Catfish." It entered the wider lexicon last month when Notre Dame linebacker Manti Te'o made international headlines as the subject of a Jan. 16 exposé by the website Deadspin, which uncovered a bizarre, long-running hoax involving a fictional persona, "Lennay Kekua," who had been successfully sold to major media outlets as Te'o's very real, recently deceased girlfriend during his ascent to Heisman Trophy finalist. Te'o subsequently confirmed the story and has admitted to lying about the "relationship" in December, even after learning he'd been duped.
Still, Te'o describes himself as a victim of the hoax, having only spoken to the girl he knew as "Lennay" over the phone and the Internet. He also maintains that, at the time, he sincerely believed the story he told reporters last year about her alleged death as a result of leukemia. In an interview with "Dr. Phil" McGraw, set to air next week, alleged hoaxer Ronaiah Tuiasosopo claims he prolonged the ruse because was in love with Te'o, and managed to successfully imitated a female voice on phone calls. (An earlier report by the New York Post disputed that claim, citing family members who said the voice on messages purportedly left by Tuiasosopo actually belonged to his female cousin.)
Michigan players have had their share of online embarrassment, too, most notably when the Twitter account belonging to star quarterback Denard Robinson was hacked in October 2011 by someone who proceeded to inform Robinson's 27,000-plus followers that their hero was "the most disgraceful person have I ever met" and "cheated on me our entire relationship!" among other revelations. The account was swiftly suspended, though it has since been reinstated and doubled its previous follower count without further incident. But you can never be too safe.