The first time I was ever hit on via Myspace message by a guy who was clearly not my age and probably married, was very much like the day I found out there was a person inside the Chuck-E-Cheese costume. Real creepy. It seemed to break a spell since I was a relatively new social media user. I had a live-journal in high-school and was pretty AIM-literate. I was not prepared to find out, however, that people would or even could use the site for false if not predatory means.
This was also around the time that many of my girlfriends were using Photoshop to edit their pictures and they looked good. Suddenly we could be models and random boys from exciting places like Santa Cruz were writing me Myspace messages saying “U look like Eva Longoria. Ur hawt.” And though I knew nothing about these boys besides their bad spelling, I was still quite flattered and definitely hooked on the digital make-overs.
Now that this little demon of my dark past is exposed, I have to say I was quite embarrassed and guilt-ridden when I was listening to NPR’s Bryant Park Project podcast and an interview with Jeff Hancock, associate professor at Cornell University, who has come up with a “method” or at least some hints on how to tell if someone is lying to you in their social media profiles, resumes and other online places where personal info is logged.
According to Hancock in an interview with the Cornell Chronicle, “Most of the work on deception has focused on nonverbal forms of deception. The thinking has been that you can control your speech but you can’t control your nonverbal behavior[body language], and this kind of thinking led to a focus on examining nonverbal cues associated with lying, which is what the polygraph tests.”
Since you generally can’t observe the body language of someone who wrote a blog, Hancock has some theories about how to tell if someone’s lying, one of them being that online-liars tend to take the personal pronoun out of their speech. For example, in a profile sentence, someone would say “Interned in New York” instead of “I interned in New York.” Another way to spot a liar is that they also tend to, according to Hancock, explain and, really, just type a lot in an effort to prove their statement even if proof is not requested.
Much of the research and data collected were from dating sites where singles have something to lose and it is that fear that drives them to lie. The truth could mean unattractiveness but also ostracism from the dating scene. There’s more to this problem, though than just blemish-hiding, over-exposed Myspace and Facebook pictures. If it’s so easy to lie online, then what’s to stop this pattern from seeping into the business side of the internet.
Apparently, it already has. Let’s remember the Edleman and Wal-Mart blog situation that gave all PR bloggers a black eye when their Working Family’s For Wal-Mart blog was outed as a PR blog. CEO Richard Edelman, said, in a blog statement, that they had failed to be completely transparent.
AH! There we have it. Transparency. What do we risk sacrificing by investing in the internet, the promised land of cheap and easy social media opportunities? Transparency. The only upside about this situation is its reciprocity, which is the exact reason why all of my PR instructors here at the University of Oregon say “be transparent, be honest, have integrity in your work, be TRUTHFUL!” Truthful information can be as available on the internet as false information. So if I lie, chances are, people will find out.
In the career world, I feel like I have more to lose as from internet lies than people on dating sites. My professional reputation is at stake. As a student, it’s even more important for me to be purposeful in what I write and publish as fact because I don’t have a solid resume yet to save me from even minor blunders. Caution is vital because one particularly frightening aspect of this situation is that as PR people participate in social media, we are communicating with a world full of tweaked identities and false demographics. This is a bad thing. And if we, too, partake in the opportunity to hide behind the online anonymity, we are contributing to and validating this audience full of phony and fabricated lives which severely limits the capacity of the messages we craft and put out.
In the online PR world, we must value truth as much as we value promotion and buzz. Until we do, we’ll always be trying to rise above stains on our collective professional reputation left by the mistakes and oversights from our colleagues. To me, that sounds exhausting and I have other things I’d rather be doing.
Image courtesy of http://www.gamerandy.com