What To Do When Lying Is The New Normal Online
Updated: Sep 2
We live in a world gone wild inventing insignificance and doubt. From our daily doses of deceptive social media, to a simple fib from a favorite friend on Facebook, to the possibility of full-blown cat-fishing on Craigslist, it can seem like lying is the new normal online.
This feeling speaks of our hopes, dreams, fears, fantasies, and our profound longing to be seen, as if for the first time, in communion with others. The truth is that our meticulously manicured lives, especially online, can cultivate a static, deceptive, and impersonal world devoid of profound, human connection.
Online deception makes communication exchanges especially challenging to navigate. According to Miller’s classic definition, deceptive communication is “message distortion resulting from deliberate falsification or omission of information by a communicator with the intent of stimulating in another, or others, a belief that the communicator himself or herself does not believe” (Miller, 1983, pp. 92-93). This definition hits the mark in many ways because at the very heart of lying is the idea that people misrepresent what they believe (facts) to persuade or coerce others. But this form of message distortion is not the only type of misinformation that you will see online.
Harry G. Frankfurt (2005), the renowned moral philosopher, says that bullshit is another type of misrepresentation. He says that for the bullshitter, the focus is not on facts at all. There is no concern for facts. There is no intent to represent reality. Instead, the focus is on getting what they want, typically by any means necessary. So, the bullshitter doesn’t care what is said as long as it suits their purpose. A bullshitter will use terms (whatever terms) to meet the self-serving needs of the moment and make stuff up just to suit the agenda that’s dominant in their mind right now. That’s what bullshitters do! That’s what bullshit looks like! You might be asking, “How can I defend against these forms of misinformation?”
In her critically acclaimed book, Kathleen Hall Jamieson (2018) coins the term viral deception (VD) to indicate that, like proactive responses to the threat of venereal disease, you should: 1) avoid transmitting false communication, 2) protect against fake stories, and 3) minimize exposure to bogus information. So, next time you feel tempted to share questionable content online, remember this discussion. Decide to take a moment to consider the veracity (the truthfulness) of the information before your distribute or post, especially in the context of loving relationships.
Let’s get real. Sometimes you need to connect with another person. Create a successful bond. Create a sense of belonging. Create a sensation of caring. There are times when you need to stop being an outsider, and start being an insider by communicating in ways that work. Truthful communication can help.
There’s no doubt that honest communication is at the heart of human connection. It is foundational. It is fundamental. But figuring out what to say and how to say it is a beast, especially when it comes to authentic communication because sincere messaging can be a real pain in the rump. Discovering the best way to engage others, captivate your crew, and connect with the world that exists outside your thought bubble can feel like a mind-numbing maze. This blog is here to help you neutralize the numbing and create connections with others in this moment and the next.
Frankfurt, H. G. (2005). On bullshit. New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
Jamieson, K. H. (2018). Cyberwar: How Russian hackers and trolls helped elect a President what we don’t, can’t, and do know. New York: Oxford.
Miller, G.R. (1983). Telling it like it isn’t and not telling it like it is: Some thoughts on deceptive communication. In J. I. Sisco (Ed.), The Jensen lectures: Contemporary communication studies (pp. 91-116). Tampa: University of South Florida.
Note: An earlier version of this adapted content was published in another format, focusing on useful strategies for managing relationships at work, at home, and at play. Feel free to follow Dr. J on Twitter @JRodriguez_PhD (J. Rodriguez, Ph.D.) or visit online at https://www.joserodriguez.solutions/.