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People Lie in Modern Communications
email this pageprint this pageemail usGuillermo Ramón Adames y Suari - PVNN
January 09, 2011

In recent studies carried out at Cornell University, a number of very interesting stories came up as a consequence of today’s invasive communication’s means. What is not mentioned in the extracts of the article published in the CHRONICLEONLINE of Cornell University, is “where” did they get those telephone messages from.

They're the little white lies we tell to save face or other people's feelings - the "I'm on my way" text messages or "Got to go, phone's ringing" excuses during online chat sessions.
I would like to refer my readers to previous articles I have published in Banderas News and in PVWriters: “What’s New “Between” The Social Networks?”, September 8, 2010, “What’s New in Facebook? The Film”, October 10, 2010, “Facebook … Again”, October 20, 2010. In these articles I bring up how through email and social networks anybody will become predictable. The research published at Cornell now includes the info available in telephone lines (it is a research on actual messages sent!!!) and shows again that you must be very careful with what you say or write.

All of these articles show that anything you publish, in any means, will be put together through other means. So far there were only social networks and email, now telephone messages complement the spectrum. And don’t fool yourself, the usage level of your telephone lines will come in the way. The next will be your preferences of what you consult through your internet address (even the intensity of your internet activity) and finally when TV adds up to the overall information network, anybody will be able to know what your preferences are (for the channels you are subscribed to), the way you carry out your payments, banking preferences, schedules, amounts. They will be able to know which TV programs you watch and your “TV activity”.

Here are some of the comments mentioned by professors Jeff Hancock and Jeremy Birnholtz:

They're the little white lies we tell to save face or other people's feelings - the "I'm on my way" text messages or "Got to go, phone's ringing" excuses during online chat sessions.

Cornell communication professors Jeff Hancock and Jeremy Birnholtz call them "butler lies," in honor of the personal assistants of yore who would provide a buffer when unwelcome guests turned up at the door.

Nowadays, we tend to rely on technology to serve this purpose, such as making excuses about needing to get offline when we don't actually have to. In fact, Hancock has found that up to 10 percent of text messages contain lies, and one-fifth of those are butler lies.

But such lies are hard to hide when GPS cell phone apps publish every movement, and friends post about activities on Facebook for an entire extended network to see. So is technology doing enough to help maintain privacy?

With the help of a $460,000 grant from the National Science Foundation and a small army of student researchers, the Cornell communications duo is studying how people manage their availability using modern technology and whether they can design new ways to help them do so. In their opinion, lying isn't necessarily a bad thing, and some relationships can benefit from a bit of privacy.

And although most of us are aware and accept that we are occasionally being lied to, we are not very good at identifying which messages are lies, he said.

"A lot of the lying that we end up doing is about managing how people interact with us," Hancock said. "We are telling narratives of our lives, and we are telling different narratives to different people. Right now, that narrative is leaky and can get messed up very easily."

So how do we manage it?

Many take advantage of the ambiguity that technology provides to cloak their activities, such as setting their instant messenger status to "away" or "busy" to avoid conversations - even though that is a lie, and in reality they are sitting inches away from the screen, busy playing solitaire.

Birnholtz believes the widespread use of lies suggests that people are resorting to social solutions because there are insufficient technical solutions. That, in turn, indicates a need for more controls or features to help people manage their personal relationships.

By doing a linguistic analysis of the deceptive messages, Birnholtz said he might be able to design a program that could predict when someone wants information to be shared or protected.

Some of his students are doing related research into how the butler lies vary from country to country, based on the plausibility of particular excuses in different cultures.

And the pair also has funding from Google to study technology-enabled deceptions in the workplace, such as manipulating the "track changes" function in word-processing software to selectively hide or highlight edits in group documents.

"Our social conventions have evolved over 60,000 years. Facebook has been around for six," Hancock said. "I think this is where a lot of the confusion comes from."

Guillermo Ramón Adames y Suari is a former electoral officer of the United Nations Organization. Contact him at

Click HERE to read more articles by Guillermo Adames on

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