Liar, Liar

“We all lie at least once or twice a day. People lie for personal or financial gain and to protect themselves.” Jeff Hancock, a Cornell University professor was one of the eight speakers at the September 13th Winnipeg TED Talks.  He told us lying is pervasive in society. Jeff first became interested in why and how people lie when he worked as a Canadian customs agent. 

Jeff told us people are more likely to be honest when they are writing something on the internet because there is a permanent record of it which can be checked.  While tracking communication for seven days between a sample group of people and their friends and family; researchers found that 40% of personal phone conversations contained lies; 20% of face to face conversations involved lying, but only 18% of personal e-mails contained lies. 

We tend to be honest on our Facebook pages as well. Jeff said research shows that people who have studied an unknown individual’s Facebook profile and people who meet that same individual face to face will come to pretty much identical conclusions about  their personality and character.  Even on dating websites people are basically honest. Men do tend to round-up their height to a higher number while women tend to round down their weight to a lower number, but only by a little bit. Jeff says they know eventually they will have to meet dates face to face and that possibility forces them to be truthful. We also learned that people’s Linked In professional profiles tend to be more honest than the paper resumes they send to prospective employers.

Jeff claims one advantage to the fact that online communication leaves an extensive written record behind, is that experts have so much more material to study and thus are better able to discern those qualities of online messages that are tell-tale signs of deception. 

In the past most words people said disappeared. In the future virtually everything  we say and do will be recorded. Jeff stated that in just one day in 2012, 200 average North American people leave a larger written record behind them than did all the people born  before Gutenberg invented the printing press. Jeff urged us to remember we all have detailed written trails of our lives in our e-mail accounts. 

Jeff  described three kinds of lies to us that are prevalent in modern social media.  All these terms were new to me. 

Butler Lies- These are the tiny white lies we use to save face or protect the feelings of others. Examples of butler lies are text messages and chat session responses like “I’m on my way” when really you haven’t left home, or “Got to go because the phone’s ringing” -when it really isn’t.  They are called butler lies because in the past people’s butlers served as a kind of buffer between them and their guests. Unwelcome guests who arrived at the front door would be met by the butler would make excuses about why their master couldn’t see them.  Nowadays we let technology make excuses for why we need to go offline or can’t talk. 

Sock Puppet Lies- These are fake reviews and recommendations for books, hotels, restaurants and movies made by people with a vested interest in the product or place being reviewed. They are often made by the creator or owner of the product or place or by their friends and relatives.

Chinese Water Army Lies- Begun in China this is the practice of project managers hiring hundreds of soldiers to flood websites, chatrooms and blogs with positive recommendations for products. 

Jeff Hancock gave his audience some good things to think about.  How and when do we lie? How does internet communication influence our honesty?  Will the fact our lies are now recorded online impact our future?

His lies were so exquisite I almost wept–  from What is the What by David Eggers

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