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The truth is out there on the net

Social networks are supposed to be the center of liars and impunity. After a research made by Jeffrey Hancock,and some analisis of Clive Thompson, it’s possible to say that the Internet has become more trustful and honest due to the fear to be exposure to be caught.

The truth is out there on the net. Far from encouraging mass deceit, the web promotes honesty because we fear getting caught, writes Clive Thompson.

Everyone tells a little lie now and then but Cornell University Professor, Jeffrey Hancock, recently claimed to have established the truth of a curious proposition: we fib less frequently when we’re online than when talking in person. He asked thirty undergraduates to record all their communications, and all their lies for a week. When he tallied the results, he found the students had mishandled the truth in about one-quarter of all face-to-face conversations, and in a whopping 37 per cent of phone calls. But when they went into cyberspace such as Facebook, only 1 in 5 instant-messaging chats contained a lie, and barely 14 per cent of email messages were dishonest. Obviously, you can’t make generalizations about society solely on the basis of college student’s behaviour, and there’s also something odd about asking people to be honest about how often they lie. But still, Professor Hancock’s results were intriguing, not least because they upend some of our primary expectations about life.

Weren’t social networks supposed to be the scary zone where you couldn’t trust anyone? Back when the Internet first went mainstream, those pundits in the government, media and academia worried that the digital age would open the floddgates of deception. Since anyone could hide behind an anonymous hotmail address or chat-room nickname, net users, were warned, would be dree to lie with impunity.

What is it, then, about online life that makes us more truthful? It’s simple, Clive Thompson agrees that on the Internet and social networks, your words often come back to haunt you.

“… social networks are a stream of everything that’s going in their lives… and on the net we are worried about being exposed…”

The digital age is tough on liars, as an endless parade of executives are finding out. This is not a problem for only corporate barons. We read the headlines; we know in cyberspace our words never die, because machines don’t forget.

“It’s a cut-and-paste culture”, as Professor Hancock put it, though he said that on the phone, so who knows if he really meant it? And consider that many email programs automatically “quote” your words when someone replies to your message. Every time I finish an email message, I pause for a few seconds to reread it just to ensure I haven’t said something I’ll later regret.

Our impulse to confess via cyberspace inverts much of what we think about honesty. It used to be if you wanted to really trust someone, you arranged a face-to-face meeting. Our culture still obsesses over physical contact, the shaking hands. Executives and politicians spend hours flying across the country merely for a five-minute meeting, on the assumption that even a few seconds of face time can cut through the prevarications of letters and legal contracts. But perhaps this growing tendency towards online communication is gratifying news. We could find ourselves living in an increasingly honest world. It will at least, inevitably, be one in which there are increasingly severe penalties for deception. With its unforgiving machine memory, the Internet might turn out to be the unlikely conscience of the world.


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