- Internet & the Web
Why do people attempt to make their lives seem more interesting on Facebook? Lying online- life, dishonesty & technology
When real life and the online world collide - there's bound to be a myriad of discrepancies, anomalies and instances where you'd rather not have everything revealed about the true nature of your 'real' offline life.
Whether you're tweeting away on Twitter, flittering around on Facebook or still stuck on musty MySpace...I bet there's been at least a few times where you've wondered if you should/could play up your real life in the virtual world; whether it be with the intention of making the mundanity of your own reality sound that little bit more exciting, or to come across as a more interesting or fascinating individual to those you connect with on social networking platforms.
It's not a crime to exaggerate is it...? Well no, but many people get caught up misrepresenting themselves and their own situation to such a degree that it really takes the personal and candid element out of social networking.
And that's where the trap is - the near-anonymity of the world wide web makes it that much easier to overstate and overemphasise your own truths.
It also really depends on who you choose to allow into your online 'circle'. Do you limit it to just close friends, or are you Facebook friends with the entire office, including the boss!? We've all got people we'd probably rather be left out of online conversations, but that's where Facebook and Twitter have taken things to a whole new level - it's basically like shouting your thoughts out in a crowded pub!
And that's where it becomes incredibly important to ensure you're only 'connected' with those whom you don't mind well and truly letting into your life, so to speak. Sure, they may already be part of your life...but social networks by their very nature, mix up your various groups of friends/acquaintances/colleagues/old and new school/college peers/family members/'friends' you've met online and don't know in an 'in real life' (IRL) context (yet!) into one jumbled mass of 'friendship'!
Is email really old news?
Gone are the days when sending off a mass email was the best way to reach a big group of people electronically. It's becoming clearer and clearer that email is becoming old news nowadays. It still has its place of course, but for more informal communication, social networking is taking over. Now it's even quicker to shoot off your mouth about the latest current event or goings-on in the office simply by posting it as a Facebook status or a Tweet on Twitter; then everyone can get in on the act! Except instead of simple email replies, updates via comments are posted for everyone to see in real-time.
In this sense it certainly promotes connectedness and discussion in a public forum type of environment...but with this degree of transparency comes a certain loss of privacy and for some people, more of a reason to lie about life on Facebook or other online social settings.
We've all heard numerous times to be extremely cautious about those we meet online, etc. In fact, we're probably all completely sick and tired of being warned about people not always being who they seem online. But this isn't always limited to those dodgy individuals who are using identity fraud, posing as others or assuming completely false profiles online and particularly within social networks, many people are finding that this almost-anonymity is providing a temptation to lie about their own circumstances.
So with 'online lives' exploding into the mainstream more and more, and expanding every day, how do we draw a healthy balance between communicating aspects of our offline life to our friends online without feeling the need to embellish the truth?
Why is it that people can't be content with being themselves online? People might feel the need to be dishonest about, or even gain a thrill from such things as...
* overstating their job, work position or even income in an online setting.
* using so-called 'MySpace angles' or Photoshopping to beautify pictures of themselves or downplay their 'less attractive' features, to use as their 'avatar' or 'icon' on various sites.
* exaggerating or lying about the frequency of social outings to make themselves appear to be having a better time in their social life than they truly are.
* overstating their grades or in more extreme cases, the college they attend, or the school they attended.
* lying about how many sexual partners/boyfriends/girlfriends/relationships they've had - both ways...more or less! In the case of dating sites - these lies can become even more outlandish and in the worst of cases, leave unsuspecting internet daters broken hearted.
...or any number of other everyday things...to simple matters of lying about your location/where you live as a safety or security measure, particularly for those who are even remotely 'well known' online, aka: internet celebs. For example, Elle and Blair Fowler (allthatglitters21 and juicystar07 as they are known online), 'beauty gurus' who made their fame on YouTube, have been surrounded by controversies involving their need to 'lie' or 'cover up' information about themselves and their identities (state, surname, school/college, advertising income and sponsorship deals with various companies) as they become more recognisable.
So why do people do this?
* Ultimately, it comes down to an insecurity thing. The internet is a place where 'real world' confidence goes out the window. Anyone can be confident online. You don't have to possess the social skills that you require in real life social settings in order to succeed or impress. It can be a way for shy people to invent accomplishments or 'make believe' a life they wish they could lead.
* It can also be about power. Again, someone who lacks self-esteem in reality might find they can take on the persona of a more forward and important individual in web settings such as online gaming (particularly World of Warcraft type multi-player games).
* For many people it can be about appearing to have done better in life than your peers. Competition doesn't stop when you leave your very last high school exam! An individual who prizes monetary or career success above anything else may see it as a way to gloat or brag about how well he/she has done for themselves. This may well be entirely legit...but on the other hand it might just be a little too easy these days to stretch the truth with these matters!
* In the case of online dating services, you've probably heard many stories of the potential partner/date not exactly living up to his or her 'glowing' profile! Apart from the horror stories, mixups and embarrassments, in this environment where blind dating meets mail order brides/husbands, truth often gets overlooked for playing up one's circumstances, likes, dislikes, wants and expectations! We all expect a certain element of exaggeration when it comes to finding the love of our life or just a flirty fling on the WWW, but it's all too easy to attempt to oversell yourself because you don't want to sell yourself short!
* In the case of a different type of online setting - user-generated video creation (particularly online media giant YouTube); where a new kind of celebrity is forming with dozens of high-profile 'vloggers', 'gurus' and entertainers trying to break into the entertainment world, more and more young people are feeling the need to be deceptive in order to 'make it'. Whether they believe their true personality just won't cut the mustard, or whether they want to come across differently to appeal to a certain audience...the 'tech savvy' generation are often finding fame whilst not exactly being true to themselves. The YouTube superstar iJustine made a fantastic video called 'So Many Lies!' centred around people lying on the internet, and asking viewers whether they had in fact met anyone in real life who turned out to be totally different than they were online. In the video she states that a person like this who pretends to be someone they're not when using social media outlets such as Facebook, YouTube, Twitter etc, is termed a 'Catfish'.
* Or it could just be a case of one finding little or no satisfaction in the events of their real life, so they turn to online 'friends' to fill the void. In this case the misrepresentation might be fairly harmless, but in the end, one is really only fooling themselves. When online communities are really about connecting with and getting to know interesting people who share some of your passions and values, this kind of dishonesty, whilst probably not actually hurting anyone involved, is more or less disregarding the whole point of creating these online connections, friendships and networks in the first place!
So what's the moral of the story...?
Well, in a setting such as the World Wide Web, it's inevitable that there are going to be those who use the anonymity of social networking sites, dating sites and forums to inflate their own sense of self worth, come across as more appealing to the opposite sex or even just their old high school friends. It's all a matter of realising that in most cases the person is really not gaining a true advantage.
Sooner or later, the game will be up...or if it's merely a matter of a fleeting fling or chat in a chat room or forum, chances are they will never get to really meet the other person anyway, so what will the lies achieve in that case?
In the majority of situations, we can talk ourselves up all we want, but if there isn't an ounce of truth in any of our stories, we're going to fall out of favour with a lot of people very quickly! We all know of at least one awful tale of someone getting caught out for being dishonest in a job interview, for instance. We know it's not exactly the best foot to start out on with a new employer, but yet our desire often takes over and we are often tempted to just throw in a couple of untruths here and there to 'make certain of it'! But what if you happen to be found out later? Will your job be in jeopardy? Will lying about your skills in order to get a job be discovered later? Perhaps there's not as many moral considerations when it comes to online friendships, but we still do need to think how our behaviour online affects others we connect with regularly. In the long term, it really does eventuate that honesty is the best policy. After all, like most situations in life, lies really do have legs, as they say. I believe Judge Judy also said that 'lies tend to mushroom'. Put simply, you can never really just tell one lie! There usually needs to be a cover up, and then another one...and so it goes on.
And in all seriousness, some people can become addicted to lying. Sure, everyone tells a fib from time to time, but when you spend your life trying to remember what you've told different people, or attempting to keep up with the different personas that you put on around various people or groups of people...it can be a sign you've become addicted to lying. It really is best just to tell the truth as often as you can; the odd 'white lie' can be absolutely harmless, but just remember to always ask yourself whether or not what you're saying might possibly be hurting anyone.
Besides, just being yourself is much easier. Try it sometime...!