In the digital age, it can be very easy to lie. How you portray yourself through email, or through social media, can be completely up to you. But how common are online lies really?
Jeff Hancock, Associate Professor of cognitive science and communications at Cornell University, reveals in a September TEDx Talk that, contrary to popular belief, technology does not make people more inclined to lie.
There are three new types of digital lies, according to Hancock. He calls them the Butler, the Sock Puppet, and the Chinese Water Army:
The Butler lie is typically used with people you care about who you may not want to talk to right this moment, so you lie to protect the relationship with them. For example, “Sorry I missed your call, I was in the shower.”
The Sock Puppet lie is when a person deceives others through another identity. For example, when an author writes a positive review about their own book under a fake reader’s name.
The Chinese Water Army lie is a sock puppet lie on a grander scale. Also known as astroturfing, the lie is intended to give a statement, review, or opinion the credibility of an independent entity’s perspective.
Although these three types deceptions are specific to digital media, Hancock says his research has shown that people lie less online than in other media. A study at Cornell showed that people lied most often on the phone and least often over email.
When it comes to job applications, Hancock and his fellow researchers found that job applicants were more honest on LinkedIn about the points that mattered most to employers, and more deceptive on paper resumes.
The reason we are more honest online is simpler than we think, says Hancock. In the past, before there was modern technology or even written language, people could lie to each other easily. Once the words were said, they disappeared.
The introduction of written language, and then word processors and email, makes lying a lot more complicated. Emailing leaves a digital paper trail. A lie is kept there on record, and it can become a dangerous situation.
“Not only are you leaving a record for yourself on your machine, but you’re leaving a record for the person you were lying to,” Hancock says.
Technology therefore might make us more honest than ever.
Watch the entire TEDx Talk here.
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