Eilidh Glassey examines the trends in lying following the progression of technology.

Is technology progression aiding our lies?

When I first saw this question my first thought was ‘of course, it’s much easier to say “sorry I’m not feeling great tonight, another time?” over Facebook than to someone’s face. This is because we feel more confortable telling a lie if nobody can see any physical cues we may give away, such as facial expressions, vocal properties and physical gestures, often referred to as our body language. However after researching this topic I found otherwise.

Studies show that we each lie once or twice per day on average, which seems about right when you include the “white lies”, as we like to call them to feel better about ourselves: ‘sorry my phone was dead’, ‘I’m busy just now, I’ll call back later’, ‘on my way’ or the more counter-productive ‘I am going to start that essay today’. The first two mentioned here are technically called Butler Lies; lies which involve a relationship. These come from technology making communication available 24 hours a day and we tell these lies in order to protect the relationships of the people we care about as we might not want to talk to that person at that particular time. Technology is increasing the number of protective Butler lies we tell; however, other forms of lying are decreasing.

Diary studies were carried out where people recorded all of their conversations for seven days and the results showed that the medium people lied through the most was the phone and least, email which surprised psychologists as it had the least non-verbal cues making it easier to lie. The same was the case for resumes, it was shown that people lied more on a paper resume than on their online LinkedIn account, and this was due to the likelihood of being “caught”. When a piece of paper is sent to a singular person your lie is more likely to go by undetected compared to a lie on your page that can be viewed by anyone at any time.

Social media was also tested. We all have that old friend whose Facebook page you look at and it seems like they are always out at night, away on holiday or just blatantly having more fun than you, and I know I like to think ‘they are just the ones they put online so that they seem more fun’. A study was done, however, that proved otherwise. A Facebook page was shown to strangers who then gave a description of the person based on their online appearance. These descriptions were then compared with ones written by close friends and each one matched, showing that the Facebook pages did truly reflect the personalities of those who made them.

Online dating is always one that comes up when researching online deception. It didn’t take me long to find the horror stories of those who turned up to a date with an 80 year old man or a transvestite when that was not quite what they were expecting. Although in general research shows that people don’t lie… too much. The real heights, weights and ages of some online daters were measured and compared to their online profile stats and it was found that 80% of people lied about one of these but never by much. For example men exaggerated their height by an average of only one inch, giving frequent but subtle lies. The reason for this is again, the likelihood of being caught. Lying itself is a cooperative act and in order for it to be a success someone has to believe it. If someone described themselves as tall, dark and handsome and turned up short, fat and bald you’d be out of there straight away but if a man lied about his height by one inch, it would probably go by undetected. The lie has to be one that would also be accepted face-to-face.

Online communication here is either just as honest, or even more honest than face to face. We are bad at detecting this direct deception. When tested we have around a 54% accuracy of detecting a lie as we don’t know what to look for, most people try to detect a liar by their eyes; however, in reality there is no specific reliable cue for everyone. Even a lie told online has around a 50/50 split detection. This was tested by paying people to write reviews for a hotel, half were real and half were fake but still only around half were detected.

Corporate deception in 2010 led to $997 billion dollars of corporate fraud. One way companies are profiting from online public deception is paying people to write good reviews about their product or company, in an act known as Astroturfing. This is however becoming easily detectable as computer algorithms can be used to analyse the linguistic traces of deception which cannot be done in face-to-face deception. Liars tend to use the first person singular more often and tell a story where someone telling the truth would speak more of the spatial information. There are different patterns of lying for different products and different media but they are all becoming easier to trace through analysed linguistics, which is much more reliable than human detection.

It is thought that humans developed speech 200,000 years ago whereas writing emerged about 5,000 years ago. Every word spoken before that disappeared without any record. It is now almost impossible to go through a singular day without recording some aspect of your life and the majority of it is recorded online. With so much being logged it is dangerous to tell a lie if you ever plan on having to go back on it in the future. We are now aware of recorded social interactions, the dangers they create and the increased detection rates which are decreasing the amount of harmful deception online.


Eilidh Glassey


Image by Collin Harvey