NEW YORK (Reuters) - Manti Te'o, the Notre Dame linebacker entangled in a girlfriend hoax that gives a whole new meaning to the term "air kiss," is inspiring a new fad racing through social media: Te'oing.
An avalanche of pictures of people hugging empty chairs or puckering up to an otherwise empty room were posted to Twitter with the hashtag #Te'oing days after the college football star's story about his girlfriend's cancer death was exposed as a fraud. Not only did she never have leukemia, she never existed.
Notre Dame officials said Te'o told them he had been duped into believing he had an online relationship with the fictitious woman.
"Te'oing - Mile High Club edition" read one tweet with a photo of a man hugging the air in an airplane bathroom, an apparent reference to the whispered practice of having sex in mid-flight.
Clint Eastwood was hailed in several tweets as a "Te'oing" pioneer for the actor's interlude with an empty chair at the 2012 Republican Convention. Other tweets showed Ronald McDonald Te'oing on his cozy bench and President Barack Obama spending quality time Te'oing with a vacant seat.
"Just some afternoon bubbly with my baby" said one Te'oing tweet with a photo of a man clinking his champagne flute against another that appeared to be suspended in mid-air.
The snarky social media frenzy recalled another similar trend called the "Tebowing," named for New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, who frequently kneeled for on-field prayers and inspired copy-cat poses people whose pictures flooded social media last year.
In its own riff on emptiness and romance, a Kentucky minor league baseball team, the Florence Freedom, has announced it will give away Manti Te'o Girlfriend Bobblehead dolls - actually empty boxes - to the first 1,000 fans at the May 23 game.
One section of the Florence, Kentucky, stadium has been reserved "for fans to sit with their imaginary friends, girlfriends/boyfriends or spouses" who may be caught on the "pretend kiss cam" and are invited to compete in an air guitar contest or an imaginary food fight.
(Writing Barbara Goldberg; Editing Paul Thomasch and Vicki Allen)