Hours after the Deadspin story went live, a Twitter user named Justin Megahan began looking for tweets in connection to the hoax. Megahan searched through Twitter archives from the previous month using the sites Topsy and Twicsy, and he soon discovered a group of about half a dozen people openly discussing the hoax. Megahan compiled 17 of these tweets on his blog. (In addition, there was a tweet he found on Twicsy which wasn't part of that collection.)
Taken as a whole, the tweets strongly suggested that Ronaiah was the man behind the catfishing scheme, and not a single account implied that Manti had knowingly taken part. Megahan himself surmised: "...they seem to believe that Manti was being misled, and was not in on the scam."
At this point, most sportswriters were still trying to determine whether Te'o had perpetrated the hoax, and so Megahan's work was treated as a mini-revelation. The catch, of course, is that Deadspin knew full well about those tweets. Deadspin had actually alluded to some of the tweets in their original article, but any references to Te'o being catfished were left out. For example, they had written:
"...two now-suspended Twitter accounts had alleged that [Lennay's sister] was a fraud, that the same person behind Lennay was operating the U'ilani account, and that the images of "U'ilani" were really of a woman named Donna Tei."That sounds like a comprehensive description. But was it really? There's only a limited number of tweets that Deadspin could have been describing, and I think the two suspended accounts were @catfishhhhhhhh and @iCaughtaCatfish.
This is the one tweet sent from the @iCaughtaCatfish account:
Those last 4 words ("He did @mteo_5 dirty!!!") are kind of important. If you include them, the message is that Te'o was a victim. If you cut them out--and also ignore the name on the account--the situation gets a lot murkier. Now here are the three tweets sent from the @catfishhhhhhhh account:
I doubt Te'o would have personally noticed any of the tweets sent to him by the two "catfish" accounts. Topsy shows about 1,500 tweets were sent to Te'o during the first week of December. Nonetheless, whoever was behind those accounts had cracked the mystery, and they were trying to get the word out to Nev Schulman, producer of MTV's "Catfish."
There was one other tweet Justin Megahan posted which I couldn't find, but it appears to have belonged to the same @catfishhhhhhhh account:
The Deadspin article mentioned catfishing only one time, and that was in a paragraph about Donna Tei--a peripheral character who had no direct connection to Manti. Deadspin said that Donna had "reached out" to Nev Schulman, but they didn't explain why Donna was reaching out to him in the first place, nor did they show the tweet. This is the tweet that Donna sent:
I don't consider these tweets as evidence, per se, of Te'o's innocence. But they are very compelling clues, and they might have altered the narrative if Deadspin had shown them. I realize, too, that a couple of Deadspin's unnamed sources were part of the group tweeting out their suspicions. (For example, @jayrahz.) It's possible Deadspin agreed not to show his specific Twitter handle. However that still wouldn't answer the bigger question: Why did Deadspin omit all of the references to Te'o being catfished?