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Lying Is More Common When We Email 123

An anonymous reader writes "A new study by University of Massachusetts Amherst researchers finds that using computers for instant messaging and e-mail increases lying compared to face-to-face conversations, and that e-mail messages are most likely to contain lies. At its heart, the difference is about deindividualization, where as people grow psychologically and physically further from the person they're communicating with, the likelihood of lying goes up."
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Lying Is More Common When We Email

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  • by 140Mandak262Jamuna ( 970587 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @02:55PM (#38139372) Journal
    I always tell the truth when post in Slashdot. Especially when I check mark the anonymous coward option. Computers, IM, email etc encourage lying. bah! humbug.
    • Yeah, I don't understand this either. I don't lie online. However, I do nothing but lie in real life. This study is bollocks!
    • Re:No way buddy. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:56PM (#38140148)
      Anonymous coward posts really are hit or miss. You can make arguments for "courage of your convictions", but I actually find more honest, dissenting opinions in the anon posts than proper ones. Named posts are almost always "safe" posts. And so, I'm glad we've got an AC option.

      Unfortunately, AC posts are also where you find the trashy, hateful, racist sludge as well.
      • You typed this in a key board without giving any clues about your body language. This must be a lie. That is what the article says. But you seem to think, "If only people can hide their From: headers they will give more honest and true opinions." One of the two must be wrong.
        • Not necessarily. If people tend to lose their inhibitions when communicating via a keyboard (as opposed to in-person communication), then they will either be more honest or more dishonest â" i.e. more of what they would have been anyway. So the Internet can make the population in general both more likely to tell the truth and more likely to lie.
      • This correlation is perhaps not a coincidence?

      • Which are honest, dissenting opinions.

  • No shit. (Score:5, Insightful)

    by CapnStank ( 1283176 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @02:55PM (#38139376) Homepage
    Haven't we already learned this from such "discussion mediums" as the Slashdot comment section? Its easier to lie when you don't have to cover your body language, quivers in voice or other "give aways".
    • Re:No shit. (Score:5, Funny)

      by blair1q ( 305137 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @02:57PM (#38139400) Journal

      Your punctuation errors are "give aways".

    • Re:No shit. (Score:5, Insightful)

      by Jeng ( 926980 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:18PM (#38139678)

      It's also easier to "lie" when you can carefully construct the "truth" which is much easier when writing it out vs doing it to someones face.

      • Re:No shit. (Score:5, Interesting)

        by arkenian ( 1560563 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:28PM (#38139816)
        I agree. I think its just easier to lie in writing, and that there is an intrinsic nature to the fact that it is indelibly recorded which makes humans more inclined to lie. I might be willing to admit to my boss off-the-record that I called in sick one day 'cuz I just didn't feel like it, as opposed to actually being sick. I'd never write it down in an e-mail, because then he'd have a written record to use against me....
        • Re:No shit. (Score:4, Insightful)

          by Jeng ( 926980 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:58PM (#38140164)

          I've never considered myself good at lying so I do tend to steer away from it, but people can get conflicting information from me anyway.

          Someone asks me a question face to face and they want a simple answer for a complex problem I'll generalize an answer that might be technically correct, while in email I can sit there and lay out all points of the issue and put out a much better answer that might conflict with the shorter answer I gave earlier.

          Which one is the lie?

          • Re:No shit. (Score:4, Insightful)

            by tomhudson ( 43916 ) <barbara.hudson@b ... u d s o n . c om> on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @04:31PM (#38140540) Journal

            The problem is that the people who think they're good liars are lying to themselves. So when called out on a lie, they don't understand how YOU can DARE have the UNMITIGATED GALL to imply that they're lying - even when you catch them red-handed!

            They know they're lying, but THE FORCE (of of being able to ignore cognitive dissonance) IS STRONG with them.

            And of course, they're so used to lying that they expect everyone else to.

            • Actually, the Force of Ad Hominem is strong with those types too. "I know you know I know you know" you are lying, but they're fast at an "Animalistic" response and it works in Media formats. "You couldn't defend the personal attack, therefore your credibility is down, therefore I must be right."

              It's the whole Jocks vs Nerds thing from high school.

      • by Idbar ( 1034346 )
        Diplomacy is an art and starts in written form.
    • Re: (Score:1, Redundant)

      by gstoddart ( 321705 )

      It's easier to do lots of things when it's somewhat impersonal. If people acted in real life the way they do online, well, lots more people would likely have broken noses. :-P

      The perception of anonymity can cause otherwise normal people to devolve into complete arseholes.

      • Re:No shit. (Score:5, Funny)

        by canajin56 ( 660655 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:36PM (#38139918)
        That's Johnathan Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. "Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad." I don't remember what the Lesser Internet Fuckwad Theory is, it's been years since I took Intro to Internetrics.
        • I think it's that those things make you a "Greater Fuckwad".

          The A-hole is greater than the sum of its parts. ;-)

        • by mcmonkey ( 96054 )

          That's Johnathan Gabriel's Greater Internet Fuckwad Theory. "Normal Person + Anonymity + Audience = Total Fuckwad." I don't remember what the Lesser Internet Fuckwad Theory is, it's been years since I took Intro to Internetrics.

          While the GIF is well supported by experience, the LIF is a fallacy.

          There are no lesser fuckwards on the internet.

        • Greater Fuckwad != Liar... I can be a total dick and tell the truth, especially if you disagree with my position. And just because you disagree, does not mean I'm lying.
    • by mr1911 ( 1942298 )

      Haven't we already learned this from such "discussion mediums" as the Slashdot comment section? Its easier to lie when you don't have to cover your body language, quivers in voice or other "give aways".

      Is the only reason you tell the truth because you fear your "tells" show through?

      The Slashdot comment section also has no personal connection with the other party if there is any other party represented as many posts are not directed to an individual. An anonymous community also has no personal investment in being caught in a lie, as does a lie on a one-to-one basis.

      Email, IMs, and other communications with others known to you does contain personal investment for being caught in a lie.

  • Really? (Score:5, Funny)

    by Anonymous Coward on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @02:56PM (#38139388)

    I was just getting out of bed after a 9 hour orgy with my harem. I showed them this story on my iPad 4 and they think it's all BS.
  • by Anonymous Coward

    At least, thats what my girlfriend says.

  • people lie? (Score:5, Funny)

    by roman_mir ( 125474 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @02:59PM (#38139424) Homepage Journal

    is it true, do people lie? Over email? To other people?

    we need to look into this, it's going to ruin the economy, especially if these liars get into politics and big business!

  • by dave562 ( 969951 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:00PM (#38139442) Journal

    When we need to lie, we pick up the phone. Emails are logged and archived.

    I'm mostly kidding. I'm in IT. I do not need to lie. The sales staff on the other hand seems to make a living over promising things to clients.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      People learn quickly around me not do to that. I *KEEP* my emails... I *WILL* bring them back up...

    • IT is not somehow morally superior to anything else, people lie there as well as in anything else.

      • by dave562 ( 969951 )

        You're right. I never meant to imply any sort of moral superiority. I was just taking the opportunity to poke fun at sales people, who seem to be paid to lie for a living.

    • by need4mospd ( 1146215 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:40PM (#38139956)
      That's why you follow every call up with an email. Confirm every detail of the conversation how you understood it. Not only does it make a paper trail, but it clears up any communication errors. Habitual liars catch on real quick when their words are on paper.

      Also, do not try this with the wife. "But honey, I have email proof!" only makes it worse.

      • I've seen that people lie to me more often via text msg more often than via emails. Email seems more like an official documentation than text to most people, I guess even though both are logged and documented.
        • Yeah but how long do you keep an archive of your text messages compared to your email? At work I have 11 year old email archived - the oldest text message I have is from yesterday.
      • by dave562 ( 969951 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:55PM (#38140128) Journal

        That is a good point. I often use that technique not to deal with liars, but to CYA.

        "Just to confirm, you told me that you understand everything I told you, but you don't want to deal with it right now and think it can wait until later. I'm okay with that. Just don't come crying to me when the systems are down because you didn't take me seriously."

        All it takes is getting bit in the ass once to turn into an ass covering twit. I hate to be that guy, but I hate it even more to get caught holding the bag because someone above me decided that what I told them was important, really wasn't important.

      • In my experience, this does a good job of clearing up over-the-phone misunderstandings. But it does little to deter liars, who will ignore the email and simply claim later (if called out on their lie) that they hadn't read your call minutes, and this wasn't what they intended to say. "Those were your words, not mine."

        Agreed with GP, a lie told by email is written record. A lie told by phone or in person can be refuted. Why would people prefer to leave a paper trail? Maybe it is just for fibs or other inconsequential lies.

        Also I've had similar experience as GP with our sales force. Those guys will drop a lie like it's going out of style, any time they perceive it might work out in their favor. "I did XYZ yesterday on Customer ABC, but there's no record in the system of that today, and this caused me to miss my numbers." "No, in fact, not only did nobody even bring that customer record up, you weren't even signed into the system yesterday." I don't get how the level of dishonesty they demonstrate on a regular basis goes unpunished. I sincerely doubt I'd still have a job if I had the same standard of honesty.

      • Or just don't marry habitual liars.

      • Indeed

        I've often found that telling the truth and actually being believed are two entirely different things.

        I've had quite a few times where some jackass doesn't believe me simply because his scumbag chums are the ones lying and they take their word over mine. Even when I offered rock solid proof.

        Also cases where the jackass in question simply just wants to hate my guts and isn't going to be deterred by inconvenient facts.

    • by eepok ( 545733 )

      I think the same of people who prefer to talk on the phone. Email keeps a trail of evidence. Email keeps people honest in business. Phones are for off-the-record communication, now.

      When people call me in response to an email, I frequently think that they just don't know how to form coherent sentences and want to put the responsibility of communication fully on me instead of them explaining something on the record.

      • by Macgrrl ( 762836 )

        Personally, I like to have written confirmation of instructions to minimise confusion and to have something to point at if things get off the rails. But sometimes you will get an email and have to ring the sender just to short circuit a conversation that is spiralling out of control. Communication is a two-way street, and sometimes it is much easier and faster to clarify verbally than to keep ping-ponging emails back and forth when it's obvious you are talking at cross purposes.

        The trick is to write a follo

  • Of course... it easy to get away lying via e-mail. The terrible actors of the world needn't know that their facial expressions or eye directions won't reveal their lie.

    I never lie though- find it counterproductive. When you've got 18inches who needs to lie?

  • by G3ckoG33k ( 647276 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:00PM (#38139448)

    Uncomfortable and inconvenient truths, more common by anonymous?

    Some webpages promote anonymous posts, as they tend to get better discussions. Whistleblowers!

    e-mail is normally attached to your name, so lying is better than telling the truth

    • by Hentes ( 2461350 )

      This is why the belief that anonymous posting causes trolling is stupid. Facebook commentwalls clearly proved that people can be dumb jerks with their full names as well. The cause is more likely that you don't see the other person face to face, it's much more impersonal. It's easier to hurt someone you never met.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    I lie much more in face to face conversations, like when I'm in a social situation such as my work, as I am obligated to talk to every idiot that shows up, and prefer not to let them know that I want to avoid them.
    With e-mails however, I am much more selective who I talk to, usually I only talk to people I want to talk to and therefore I'm more often sincere in my e-mails.

  • by youn ( 1516637 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:05PM (#38139518) Homepage

    article says they determine it by analysing conversations but it does not tell much. If it is the experimenter's chat logs then he has a bias and he could subconsciously lie more if that is his hypothesis. If it is other lying then how is it determined that they are lying? also, easier to know exact details of conversation if it is written (unless it is recorded word for word).

    imho the study as it is presented does not say much... though there is nothing wrong with the hypothesis that people would lie more because it is tougher to come up with a lie live. That said, we all learn to lie very quickly... and most become quite good at it to a point it's not anymore really an issue to lie live for most.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      They lied about the results. You should have realised that by now.

  • by AngryDeuce ( 2205124 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:06PM (#38139524)

    They did a study not long ago demonstrating that anonymity encourages anti-social behavior, which also wasn't surprising.

    Besides, a large component of lying (in my 'based on nothing but my own experiences' opinion) seems to be the odds of getting caught in said lie. When you're talking to someone face to face, there's a lot of physical clues that aren't present in an email, thus encouraging a person to lie.

    Christopher Walken said it best, though. [] I admit that may not have as much to do with the topic at hand, I just fucking love that scene...

    • by sribe ( 304414 )

      They did a study not long ago demonstrating that anonymity encourages anti-social behavior, which also wasn't surprising.

      Funny thing about that though (if we're talking about the same study), the researcher faked all his data, and has now admitted to faking at least 30 studies. Talk about irony...

  • by sl4shd0rk ( 755837 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:07PM (#38139536)

    All those emails about Global Warming... see?

  • Why would anyone be more inclined to lie when it will be documented? You lie when you have plausible deniability, or am I putting to much thought into this?

    • by sribe ( 304414 )

      Why would anyone be more inclined to lie when it will be documented? You lie when you have plausible deniability, or am I putting to much thought into this?

      You're not putting too much thought into it, you're failing to take into account the "delusion of grandeur" common with narcissistic and sociopathic personality disorders. A couple of year ago I had the thoroughly weird experience of having someone telling bald-faced lies about me lying, when the entire chain of correspondence was in writing and any interested party could easily verify that I had never made any such claim as was attributed to me. Not email by the way, written letters, reviewed by attorneys.

  • Hard to believe (Score:5, Insightful)

    by LoudMusic ( 199347 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:09PM (#38139568)

    Either the research is flawed, or the people they studied are going to fail miserably in the "real world".

    I find myself stretching the truth, or dodging accurate answers, when speaking in person far more often than I do in text. With text there is a document recorded for all time which can be referenced at any time. If it's not correct it's going to destroy you. If you say something untrue it's possible to wiggle out by claiming you were misunderstood or misheard.

    Typically there is more time to build accurate and honest replies in text than there is in verbal communication. When you're speaking with someone they expect the reply RIGHT THEN, so you make some shit up to cover your ass. If you have more time you can formulate a true(er) response, or build truth prior to making your reply.

    "Hey babe, did you take out the trash?"
    "Uh, yep."
    The hell you did. And now you have to get the trash out before she finds out.

    "Hey babe, did you take out the trash?"
    Take out the trash.
    "Yep. At the curb."

    No deceit. Just delay of truth due to available features of the means of communication.

    • by Anonymous Coward

      Thank you for your response.

      We want you to know we highly value your opinion.

      Your message will be processed shortly and a representative will get back to you.

      I have read the Terms of Use and End Licencing Agreement.

    • Some people don't have that knee-jerk avoid trouble response. When I was growing up getting caught in a lie was always worse than telling the truth and taking my punishment. So I developed an averse reaction to lying. That isn't to say that sometimes I won't leave out important information or say something that isn't a half-truth. Generally though I live my life honestly, and just try and accept things as they are and fix them in the future. Over E-mail I have a longer period of time over which to figu
    • Re: (Score:2, Insightful)

      by dkleinsc ( 563838 )

      "Hey babe, did you take out the trash?"
      "Uh, yep."
      The hell you did. And now you have to get the trash out before she finds out.

      See, I must be one of those people who knows that it's probably better to answer the spoken question with "Nope, thanks for reminding me, I'll get right on it." That's something about actually respecting and liking the person calling me "babe", and knowing she wouldn't be asking the question if she didn't have a legitimate reason for it.

      But then again, I'm just honest. Honestly, it's the honest ones you want to watch out for, because you can never predict when they're going to do something incredibly ... st

    • I don't remember the exact quote....

      "A man lies whenever he talks"

  • by vanyel ( 28049 ) * on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:09PM (#38139570) Journal

    I've found myself more open and honest in email, I think partly because I'm typing at the computer and not actually in the presence of the person - it's more like I'm talking to myself.

  • even IM chats are better.

    why? they're edited less, more of stream of thought. emails are one stream of thought written and then edited multiple times.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    Dear Sir,

    Good day and compliments. This letter will definitely come to you as a huge surprise, but I implore you to take the time to go through it carefully as the decision you make will go off a long way to determine the future and continued existence of the entire members of my family.

    Please allow me to introduce myself. My name is Dr. (Mrs.) Mariam Abacha, the wife of the late head of state and commander in chief of the armed forces of the federal republic of Nigeria who died on the 8th of June 1998.

    My o

  • In the absence of physical tells, we tend to lie more? This is a revelation? I think I'm applying for a grant to find out why you get wet in the rain.

    • by blair1q ( 305137 )

      Not me. I lie the most when I know people are trying to read tells.

      But you still have to get the cards, so, no bracelets for me. Yet.

  • Is it because it's an e-mail that they lie more or because it's a constructed piece of written media?

    Did they find the same results in normal letters/mail vs oral/IM communication?

    I suspect it's all because lying is a lot easier to do when you can edit and rewrite what you're saying before you've actually said it.

  • It was an extremely sales oriented company in a fairly shifty industry so, we just went with 100% lies on all communications (email/face to face/phone and customer facing or internal). Therefore, it wasn't more in this case.

  • by Culture20 ( 968837 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:28PM (#38139818)

    e-mail messages are most likely to contain lies

    As in email messages have a greater than 50% chance of containing a lie, or email messages seem to have more lies than texting or face-to-face conversation?

  • and that e-mail messages are most likely to contain lies.

    Really? Can you quantify 'most'? P > 0.5?

    I'm not disagreeing with the subject line premise (more common). I just think the summary exaggerates. Or perhaps they are just lying to us.

    Its also possible that the statistics are biased by the number of Nigerian investment scheme offers and penis enhancement product ads piling up in most in boxes.

  • by SlippyToad ( 240532 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @03:34PM (#38139880)

    I was taught in a communications course that over 90% of the "information" in a conversation is transmitted visually. We read each others' faces and body language.

    My hobby is leading a rock band. I have noticed that people really don't hear as much of what we're doing as we think we are -- they are watching how we act on stage. This became apparent when we did a multi-band show one time and though the other bands were musically just as good as we were, we got a rousing ovation because my guitarist and I were jumping around on stage and cracking jokes. And the observations from the audience overwhelmingly confirmed -- it was how we behaved that sold our performance. We were good, we knew it, and we showed it.

    So when you remove that element, that body language that will tell most people if you actually buy the bullshit you're selling, it frees you to sell far more bullshit.

    Sociopaths and social manipulators don't even understand that what they're doing is wrong which is why one of the easiest ways to identify those folks is probably by their supernally smooth lying skills. Think about how charismatic TV preachers are, and think about how almost universally these folks turn out to be con-artists and frauds.

  • by Anonymous Coward

    What ever happened to "say it forget it, write it regret it"?

  • But if everything you post is a lie and you say you are lying...
  • People don't tell the truth in e-mails? What are you saying? Crown Prince Abalua Ngmbutte, who is seeking my help to move 23 million US Dollars out of the Central Reserve Bank of Nigeria might not be telling the truth? OMG! What am going to do? I was counting on my honest share of 8.2 million US Dollars to restart my life! Am I going to be ruined? Why bad things keep happening to me? When I am going to get my just reward?
  • That's simply not true! And i should know since i invented both OpenBSD, The Internet and the vaccine against small pox!
  • I am walking along a trail in the jungle. I arrive at a fork in the trail leading to two villages of Amazon tribeswomen. At the fork, there is a member of one of the two tribes, but I'm not certain which. One tribe's members always tell the truth, the other always lie. One tribe kidnaps travelers and makes them their sex slaves. The other does not.

    Siri, what question should I ask this woman?

    • I am walking along a trail in the jungle. I arrive at a fork in the trail leading to two villages of Amazon tribeswomen. At the fork, there is a member of one of the two tribes, but I'm not certain which. One tribe's members always tell the truth, the other always lie. One tribe kidnaps travelers and makes them their sex slaves. The other does not.

      Siri, what question should I ask this woman?

      The classic example has the restriction that you can only ask one question (so if there was only one tribe member there, you would ask "if a member of the other tribe was asked the question 'which way should I go to avoid kidnapping?', what would their answer be?", and do the opposite)

      Without that restriction you can ask a few control questions to determine whether they are telling the truth or lying, and then ask them about it ("what is your gender?" for example)

      In one of the Order of the Stick comics

  • If you're an honest and forthcoming person, I think you're willing to use the text aspect of internet communication to be more so.

    If you're a dishonest person, you probably see the utility of electronic communication for deception and deceive more.

  • by SphericalCrusher ( 739397 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @05:51PM (#38141474) Journal
    "Dr. John Doe, I apologize for the delay in getting your PC back out to you. I realize this is an urgent priority and I am working as fast as I can to fix it in a timely manner. At this time, I would continue to use your laptop computer to dictate so that you do not fall behind. The reason it is taking so long with this PC is your hard drive is actually defective. I had to remove the hard drive and copy off your data in parts, making sure I get it all. Your data and this PC are my number one priority and you will have it later this week. I thank you so much for your patience. Thanks, -Me" Lies? Yeah. It's not my top priority since he has another PC... and I am working on six other "high priority" PCs, each of which affect patient care. The bad hard drive? Yeah, not true... just a way to delay the process (Although it is a 40GB Maxtor drive may as well be bad). Nonetheless, he obtained a brand new Desktop a few days later and was very happy. So yeah, I lied but in the end all is well. (I made another post by accident as an Anonymous Coward. Sorry for duplicate).
    • Don't get used to it. The hard part isn't crafting the lie--it's getting all your lies mixed up with one another.

  • ...Seeing as how I've been getting e-mails from all over the world for years now telling me that if I reply back with my credit card information I can get thousands of dollars from overseas bank accounts, but I never have, no matter how many times I reply telling them I've never had a credit card and never will! ;)

  • by Lisias ( 447563 ) on Tuesday November 22, 2011 @07:00PM (#38142358) Homepage Journal

    Liers wil lie.

    There're psychological triggers that inhibits liers from lie when facing the interlocutors. These triggers doesn't happens they use a computer.

    Digital media does not favors lying. It simply does not inhibits it.

  • Before then, I normally took the sitting position when I was emailing. Now I just hold the iPad while lying in bed. Progress!

  • Lying is only common when people try to interact with people. From what I've seen, people will almost never lie when they interact with devices or computer programs. Also, it is unlikely that an individual will lie when their anonymity is either assured, or enforced. When people interact about something they are personally invested in, the chances that they will lie go right through the roof!

    as to the conclusion made in TFA, I'd say that the longer people have to make up lies, the more they will lie

  • I find that my propensity for dissembling is limited by emails.

    When I compose an email, am I typically under less stress / duress (someone isn't demanding an immediate response for information that I do not have), and can more carefully consider my words when emailing someone. In my experience, some people will play phone hostage with you, and ask you to commit or agree to things that cannot be. Something along the lines of "I need this website up by 2 PM," when it's 1:45 PM, and it requires a major overhau

  • I am lying and I am telling you the truth

  • The research paper, titled “Liar, Liar, Hard Drive on Fire: How Media Context Affects Lying Behavior,” looked at 110 same-sex pairs of college students who engaged in 15 minute conversations

    Sorry, but I would call anyone who is more tempted to lie in electronic communication than IRL an idiot. All it takes is someone who compulsively saves their e-mails and chat logs for the lie to fly right in your face and potentially be exposed to people you'd rather not want to know about it. If the average American college student is more tempted to lie in electronic communication than in face-to-face talking, then we're dooomed.

  • I hear more lies out of peoples' mouths which can be contested as he-said-she-said than in emails which can be cited and referenced in the future.

Evolution is a million line computer program falling into place by accident.