The digital world has opened our lives up in many ways. Social connections can be made at a click of a button so it’s become a fast and easy place to meet people. This ease means you can reach millions of people, interact and have conversations as well as the control to respond or ignore anyone you want, which can be much harder in the real world. Building multiple relationships at once becomes the norm online with those people living in any corner of the world.
But what’s the downside to all of this? The problem is that, with the ease of building relationships with others, comes the greater the risk of being scammed. According to the Internet Complaint Centre, a whopping $173 million was lost by people scammed by romantic fraudsters just in California alone.
If the digital world is a great place to build new connections and enhance our lives, why do more and more people fall for these scams online than they probably would in the real world?
How Our Minds Work: The Truth Bias
For our social, career and even governmental relationships to work, a certain amount of trust has to be in place. This is because questioning people’s veracity at every turn doesn’t create harmonious relationships. In other words, it’s become a social default to ignore inconsistencies because we want to trust that what we hear, see and read is the truth. This is known as the truth bias.
And while the truth bias is essentially a peaceful and amicable way to go about the world, unfortunately it provides the average liar with an advantage.
Online presence takes away real life verbal and physical clues that face-to-face communication provides which is one way to fall for a liar’s words. But many people often dismiss discrepancies in order to avoid upfront questioning and would prefer to believe they are speaking to a truthful person.
The internet essentially acts as a mask making it hard to really know who we’re exchanging words with. In the real world, we can get a feel for a person’s energy or body language which helps create a fuller picture. But behind a screen, we are reliant on unpracticed techniques to figure a person out and our brains haven’t been able to build up enough data in order to spot a friend or foe without these physical interactions.
Why the Internet Isn’t What It Seems
Most people have put their stamp on the internet in the form of a Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or dating profile and almost everyone is guilty of filtering, photoshopping or adjusting their pictures in some way. In most cases it’s harmless. We often exaggerate our hobbies and interests in order to make ourselves appear better to others. Again this can be a subconscious thing and quite innocent because we all want to build a unique and interesting image in order to attract people.
However, we all know there are people out there that bend the truth when it comes to their profiles which can be hard to spot. Their life seems almost perfect with their top education, multilingual skills and high-earning job. Can this really be true? How can you trust that it’s a genuine person?
How to Spot out Liars in a Digital World
Building relationships online is a great way of meeting new people and most of the time it’s not all bad. Being cautious, however, is a must because you don’t have these instinctive verbal or physical clues that you’d normally work from.
Having the skills to decode a person’s personality, sincerity and veracity on the other side of a screen is down to getting a feel for the person and making educated guesses.
Educated guesses is an open-minded yet cautious way to go about getting to know someone you may not see in person. If you find yourself building a relationship online:
- Make a few guesses first. From what you see, try to find both positive and negative sides to them. This will help keep a balanced view without the truth bias kicking in straight away. Look at the overall person, not just what they tell you or what another person tells you about them.
- Do an internet search on them. This may appear like stalking but it’s helpful to make sure their different profiles show consistency across the board. This includes consistency of information as well as personality in terms of what they share or how they interact.
- Look for evidence that all information aligns. Look back on your initial guesses about the person and see if they match up (or don’t match up) with any of the information you’ve gathered. After weighing it out, you should be able to see if the evidence supports one guess over the other.
When assessing someone online, you need to be logical instead of relying on instinct which serves us best when we see someone face-to-face. Having a more logical approach will negate the tendency to allow the truth bias to override and therefore reduce the vulnerability of being deceived.
Next time you meet someone online, take a step back and allow yourself to be cautious. While it’s good to trust others, be aware of the truth bias we all tend to use when interacting with others and make sure you don’t make yourself vulnerable to the scammers.
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