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Have people been lying more since the advent of social media and smartphones?

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(The Conversation is an independent, nonprofit source of news, analysis, and commentary from academic experts.)

(THE CONVERSATION) Technology has given people more opportunities to connect, but has it also given them more opportunities to lie?

You can write a white lie to your friend about not going to dinner, overdoing your size on a dating profile to look more attractive, or emailing your boss an excuse to save face.

Social psychologists and communication scientists have long been wondering not only who lies the most, but where people lie the most – in person or via another communication medium.

A groundbreaking study from 2004 was one of the first to examine the relationship between rates of deception and technology. Since then, the way we communicate has changed – less phone calls and more social media messaging, for example – and I wanted to see how well past results are held up.

The link between deception and technology

In 2004, communications researcher Jeff Hancock and colleagues had 28 students report the number of social interactions they had over a seven-day period through face-to-face communication, telephone, instant messaging, and email. Students also reported the number of times they lied in each social interaction.

The results indicated that most of the lies per social interaction were told over the phone. Very few were informed by email.

The results agreed with a framework that Hancock called a “feature-based model”. Under this model, certain aspects of a technology – whether people can communicate back and forth seamlessly, whether the messages are fleeting, and whether communicators are distant – predicts where people lie most often.

In Hancock’s study, most of the lies per social interaction happened about the technology with all of these features: the phone. Few of them occurred with emails where people couldn’t communicate in sync and the messages were recorded.

The Hancock Study, revisited

When Hancock conducted his study, only students at a select few universities were able to create a Facebook account. The iPhone was in the early stages of development, a highly confidential project nicknamed “Project Purple”.

What would its results look like almost 20 years later?

In a new study, I recruited a larger group of participants and examined the interactions from several technologies. A total of 250 people recorded their social interactions and the number of interactions with a lie over seven days, through personal communication, social media, phone, text message, video chat, and email.

As in Hancock’s study, people told the most lies per social interaction through media that were in sync, recordless, and when communicators were distant: on the phone or video chat. You’ve told the fewest lies per social interaction via email. Interestingly, however, the differences between the forms of communication were small. Differences between the participants – how much people differed in their lying tendencies – were more predictive of the rates of deception than differences between the media.

Despite the changes in the way people communicate over the past two decades – along with the way the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way people socialize – people seem systematic and consistent with the trait-based model to lie.

There are several possible explanations for these results, although more work is needed to understand exactly why different media lead to different recumbent rates. It is possible that certain mediums do a better job of deceiving than others. Some media – the phone, video chat – can make the deception feel easier or less costly for a social relationship if caught.

Deception rates can also differ by technology, as people use certain forms of technology for certain social relationships. For example, people might just email their professional colleagues, while video chat is better for more personal relationships.

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Technology misunderstood

For me there are two important realizations.

First, there are small overall differences in lying rates across media. A person’s tendency to lie is more important than emailing or talking on the phone.

Second, there is a low rate of lies across the board. Most people are honest – a premise consistent with the truth-default theory, which suggests that most people are honest most of the time and that there are few productive liars in a population.

Since 2004, social media has become a primary place for interacting with other people. However, the widespread misconception that communication online or through technology, in contrast to face-to-face communication, results in social interactions that are quantitatively and qualitatively inferior continues to exist.

People often believe that just because we are using technology to interact, honesty is harder to find and users are not well served.

Not only is this perception misguided, but it is also not supported by empirical evidence. The belief that lies are prevalent in the digital age just doesn’t fit the data.

This article was republished by The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article here: https://theconversation.com/are-people-lying-more-since-the-rise-of-social-media-and-smartphones-170609.

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