If you’ve been following the increasingly convoluted saga of Notre Dame football star Manti Te’o and his fake girlfriend, Lennay Kekua, chances are it’s made you think twice about the interactions you have with people on the Internet. Te’o gained the admiration of football fans nationwide after revealing that his grandmother and girlfriend died within 24 hours of each other in September. Last week, after Deadspin published an article proving that Kekua wasn’t real, he claimed he was the victim of an elaborate hoax that was only possible because he and his beloved had a relationship that took place mostly online.
Looking beyond the heavily dissected interviews and nonstop jokes on Twitter, the Te’o saga has brought a new question to the forefront: just what kind of crime is posing as someone else online, if it’s a crime at all? It’s a challenging issue that state legislatures and courts have been quietly started grappling with in recent years, and there’s a growing consensus that masquerading as someone else on Facebook, Twitter or through email is no laughing matter—do it with just enough malice and you could wind up behind bars.