Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Feature Article

  How to tell white lies online

Special to CNN

Editor's note: Brenna Ehrlich and Andrea Bartz are the sarcastic brains behind humor blog and book  Stuff Hipsters Hate. When they're not trolling Brooklyn for new material, Ehrlich works as a news editor at Mashable.com, and Bartz holds the same position at Psychology Today.

(CNN) -- We're all big fat liars. Most of us spit out one or two intentional deceptions a day, and in a week we BS about 30 percent of those with whom we talk one-on-one, according to old but seminal research from the University of Virginia.

Here's the rub: Those stats are from 1996, back when, beyond some basic e-mailing and AOL chat room chatter, the majority of our interactions happened in real life.

If you didn't feel like going on date #2 with that nice but boring dude who couldn't stop talking about his ficuses, or would in reality rather stick your pinkie in a meat grinder than attend your roommate's French horn recital, all you needed was a quick one-time fib and you were in the clear.

Nowadays, you whip up a fabrication about your head cold, and within hours you've been tagged in three Facebook pictures gulping from a beer bong. Consequently, you completely forget your alibi and drunkenly check into that seedy dive bar on Foursquare, broadcasting your true whereabouts to all of the internet.

So, the WWW's making us all a bit more honest, right? Not quite: The UVA research found people were less honest over the phone than in person, probably because it's easier to lie into a phone than to someone's face. With texts, Gchats, FB messages, etc. usurping your vocal cords as communication media of choice, it's not hard to imagine online falsehoods running rampant.

OK, that feels intuitive enough. We're less truthful in writing than in face-to-face conversations -- those increasing infrequent exchanges where people can, like, see you getting all squirmy as you stutter further and further into your clearly fabricated excuse.

But here's the truly disturbing part: This spring, a new study reported that people tell 50 percent more lies via e-mail than in pen-and-paper missives. So this isn't just a written-vs.-spoken thing.

That's right, the internet inherently turns us into unabashed Bill Clintons, probably because we feel like our online jottings are both impermanent and impersonal.

Bottom line: The net's making it both easier to lie and easier to get caught. Read on for a few tips on using the web without getting tangled in your own web of deception.

1. Be vague

Complex excuses sound made up, and the more intricate your story, the more likely you are to eff it up in a later retelling. If you decide to forgo a planned brunch, for example, don't send a lengthy e-mail about how your cat just died and you need to go peddle some clothes at Buffalo Exchange in order to garner the cash to have Fluffy cremated.

Just send an apologetic text claiming you're not feeling well and need a rain check. That kind of statement is pretty hard to fact-check.

2. Tell relevant cohorts about the attempted sham

If you blew off someone's b'day for a late-night, last-minute, half-naked rooftop dance party (who can blame you?), you'll need to make said partially dressed partyers your unwitting accomplices. Why? Because they (those with the cameras and smartphones, that is) hold in their sweating palms the ability to blow your cover with an ill-timed tweet or a time-stamped photo.

Asking friends to hold off on disseminating the incriminating evidence is risky, because the more people you tell, the more possible whistle-blowers you've created. But come on, as soon as the pants-off-dance-off gets rolling, everyone in their right mind is going to reach for their camera, so you better start begging for their cooperation.

3. Become besties with your privacy settings

Evidence of your fib will emerge on one of your social networking streams. Your goal is to keep it contained until enough time's passed that no one will notice the incongruity between your stated plans and actual shenanigans. If you're a hard-core pathological liar, you'll want protected tweets and a closely guarded stable of Facebook friends -- and duh, geotagging services like Foursquare are not for you.

Facebook also lets you control who sees what parts of your profile. (It's kind of hidden -- way to make it easy, Zuckerberg -- so go to Account/Privacy Settings/Customize Settings, and then select Customize next to the elements [such as wall posts] you want to hide from certain groups.)

A little strategy will prevent your co-workers from seeing all those photos of your 33-hour whiskey-tobacco-screamo-music bender in Danny's Bushwick loft -- I mean, your quiet day in bed with a migraine. Ahem.

4. ... or just tell the truth

This all sounds mad complicated, exhausting and generally counter to the fun-ness you're trying to weasel your way into, right? As Clinton learned the hard (heh) way, much of the time lying just ain't worth it. So tell the gentle truth.

Apologize in advance for missing your friend's happy hour, and ask if you can make it up to her next week. Request a personal day instead of calling in with a put-on chest cough.

And save those one or two lies a day for the moments that really count: e.g., when your boss holds up a terrifying picture of his evil-looking children and says, "Gorgeous, aren't they?"

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