When it comes to Facebook, it's generally believed that most people stick to the highlights. While some users may reveal their deepest and darkest failures, you can usually browse the status updates of your friends and see everything from "Closed a big deal today" to "My band just got signed." Regular users of Facebook will tell you that you'll rarely see "I'm filing for bankruptcy" or "I gained 10 pounds last month." You'll see some posts that aren't users simply bragging -- "I have no idea how to work my TiVo" or "My cat is on life support," but these are often pleas for assistance or support.
All people lie. It's simply one of the odd things about being human. An interesting study about lying in e-mail was performed in 2008 by Rutgers, Lehigh and DePaul Universities. They gave 48 full-time MBA students $89 each and told them they had to divide the money between themselves and a fictional party, in whatever amount they wanted to. Some were instructed to send an e-mail to the unknown recipient and others were to write handwritten letters, detailing the amount of money they were given and how much they would dole out. They found that 92 percent of the e-mailers lied about the amount of money they received, compared to just 64 percent who had written letters [source: eurekalert.org]. Not only does it indicate that lying is part of human nature, but that there's something about e-mail that makes it easier to be untruthful. The same could be true of social networks.
Not everyone is 100 percent satisfied with their lot in life, so a little exaggerating on Facebook to build up your self-esteem isn't the worst crime you can commit. Neither is downplaying your low points. The fact is, users of social networks have the right to reveal as much or as little they want to, and in some ways, can create whatever persona they choose. Maybe you list NOVA as one of your favorite TV shows to appear more intelligent, when you're really into reruns of "Everybody Loves Raymond." Perhaps you claim to love the novels of William Faulkner when you're more into People magazine.
Facebook appears to be more about selective truth telling than blatant dishonesty. Unless you have a real problem with lying, what good does it do to tell your high school classmates that you own a wildly successful software development firm if you don't? Facebook is a great way to network and make business connections, so you'd only be hurting yourself in the end.
One thing that may clue us in to the honesty question is the launch of a new Facebook application called the "Honesty Box." Here, users can send and receive completely honest anonymous messages to and from friends. It's a safe haven where you have no reason to lie because you can't get found out. The only information that the receiver of the message gets is whether you're a male or female.
It seems that Facebook would only feel the need to create an honesty "safe zone" if there was a good reason to do so -- that is, that people may be more prone to fudge the truth. In the end, if you find that you're a liar in "real life," then you'll probably lie on a social network to some degree. If you're Honest Abe, then you're more inclined to be a straight shooter. Or, if you're like most people, you fall somewhere in the middle.
Related HowStuffWorks Articles
- "Benefits liars get found out on Facebook." Metro.co.uk. March 24, 2009. http://www.metro.co.uk/news/article.html?Benefits_liars_get_found_out_on_Facebook&in_article_id=594767&in_page_id=34
- "Fantasy Versus Reality." Jneils.com. 2009. http://jneils.com/onlinedating/04disadvantages.html
- "Internet Honesty Elusive." Philadelphiadaily.com. March 30, 2005. http://www.saferonlinedating.org/node/50
- "Is Social Networking Changing The Face Of Friendship?" sciencedaily.com, Sept. 14, 2007. http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2007/09/070912161147.htm
- "New research finds workers more prone to lie in E-mail." Eurekalert.org, Sept. 25, 2008.http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2008-09/lu-nrf092508.php
- "Social Networks & Blogs Now 4th Most Popular Online Activity, Ahead of Personal Email, Nielsen Reports." Nielson.com. March 9, 2009.http://en-us.nielsen.com/main/news/news_releases/2009/march/social_networks__
- "The Six Fears of Facebook and Other Social Media Channels." Internet-marketing-strategies-and-secrets.com. Jan. 12, 2009.http://www.internet-marketing-strategies-and-secrets.com/the-six-fears-of- facebook-and-other-social-media-channels/
- "What is Honesty Box?" Facebook.com. 2009. http://www.facebook.com/apps/application.php?id=2552096927&ref=s
- Saltz, Gail. "Why people lie - and how to tell if they are." Msbnc.msn.com. Jan. 31, 2004.http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/4072816/
- Soghoian, Chris. "MySpace ruling could lead to jail for lying online daters." News.cnet.com. Dec. 1, 2008.http://news.cnet.com/myspace-ruling-could-lead-to-jail-for-lying-online-daters/
- Whitty, Monica. "Liar, liar! An examination of how open, supportive and honest people are in chat rooms." Sciencedirect.com, 2009. http://www.sciencedirect.com/science?_ob=ArticleURL&_udi=B6VDC-44TV7MS-1&_user=10&_rdoc=1&_fmt=&_orig=search&_sort=d&view=c&_acct=C000050221&_version=1&_urlVersion=0&_userid=10&md5=93c97fc32dc6b1bfddbd31dc7e8fda3d