Believe me, this is true – people lie online

LiarTom Crone, the lawyer from News International is adamant he is telling the truth about the News of the World phone hacking scandal. But the company boss, James Murdoch, is also insistent that he is telling the truth too. Considering that these two powerful men are giving rather different versions of the same events it seems that something fishy is going on..!

The chances are you can spot when you are being lied to. You don’t need to hold an investigation, neither do you need to get in a lie-detector machine – usually your gut instinct will let you know – instantly – that you are not being told the truth. Things like vocal performance change when we lie – the frequency of sound often goes up. So when someone is speaking to you and then suddenly their vocal frequency rises you interpret that as the fact they are possibly being misleading. We work that out when we are babies. Just listen to someone having a “chat” with an infant – apart from the coo chi-coos when we speak with babies our vocal frequency goes up quite a bit. However, when we do that we are often not telling the truth to the child. We talk all sorts of nonsense. Then, as they start to understand, we get more serious and our vocal frequency goes down. It’s a signal to the growing child that true stuff is associated with a lower register. When we lie, we get nervous, our vocal chords tighten and the frequency of sound goes up – which we interpret as a fib, thanks to our development.

In addition to vocal changes, there are micro-muscular changes which occur in our face; we are adept at spotting them and as a result we can easily detect a liar. You do it every day – someone says something to you and you spot those vocal frequency changes and the tiny movements in their face and you suspect that what you are being told is not completely true. Human beings are good at spotting liars.

However, here’s the problem – we need to be in front of people to detect those non-verbal signals of fibbing. If someone isn’t even present in the same room as you, but merely communicating via text message, or on Twitter, how do you tell who is truthful?

A few research studies have shown that when we complete online forms and profile information in social networks we tend to be more honest than when we do the same in print. We lie less readily in our online CVs than in the ones we type up it seems. And according to new research from the University of Massachusetts suggests that when we are online on things like Twitter we are less prone to lying than in other forms of digital communication. What the study shows is the fact that we are more likely to lie when the communication is “asynchronous” – when writing and reading are at different times. When communication is simultaneous, as in social media exchanges we are less likely to lie – though, just as in the real world, we do tell porkers.

The research shows that the place you are most likely to be lied to online is in emails. The time lag between writing and reading is often so great that it makes us more tempted to lie, it seems.

What can you do about it? The answer is easy. Don’t write emails as though you were typing a report. Write your emails “out loud” – talk them through, as though you were facing the individual, one-on-one, face-to-face. It will put you in a different frame of mind and will set you up psychologically for “speaking” to the individual, rather than writing to them. That will inevitably make you more honest as your brain will start to interpret the communication as synchronous. Not only that, writing emails as though you are speaking also makes them easier to understand because they will be written better, avoiding flowery language, jargon and nonsense non-words, symbols and “smilies”. In other words, you boost your communication at the same time as making yourself more honest.

I wonder what the emails between Crone and Murdoch are like…?

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Graham Jones
Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist who studies the way people use the online world, in particular how people engage with businesses. He uses this knowledge to help companies improve their online connections to their customers and potential customers and offers consultancy, workshops, masterclasses and webinars. He also speaks regularly at conferences and business events. Graham is an award-winning writer and the author of 32 books, several of which are about various aspects of the Internet. For more information connect with me on Google+
Graham Jones

@grahamjones

Graham Jones is an Internet Psychologist, professional speaker and author of 32 books who helps businesses understand the online behaviour of their customers
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