Telling stories

People Still Lie In the Age of Transparency

Posted by southwrite on July 15, 2014

Man in HatThere’s very little about our lives that is secret anymore – or is likely to be secret for long.

Facebook keeps track of your typed posts even if you decide to delete them. Google knows everywhere you’ve been on the web.  And everything they know the NSA knows as well – and a lot more. And, of course, big business owns your personal data and probably knows more about you than your spouse.

All of this over exposure was supposed to make us a lot more transparent. Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg’s now creepy statementPeople have really gotten comfortable not only sharing more information and different kinds, but more openly and with more people. That social norm is just something that has evolved over time. We view it as our role in the system to constantly be innovating and be updating what our system is to reflect what the current social norms are.

So if we now live in an overexposed world in which its pretty easy to find out lots of things about lots of people, why tell lies that can be easily found out? Why tell your new date that you’re a company CEO when a Google search will reveal that you’ve just gotten out of prison.

Decide it would fun to take your top off in a bar and a score of cell phone cameras will send images of your bare breasts across the web. Forget about keeping that Miss America crown.

These days it’s easy for a company to search public records and Facebook accounts to ferret out the truth and lies hidden in resume and job applications. There’s a long list of coaches, CEOs and assorted academics who have lost their jobs because they claimed degrees they never bothered to earn.

In fact, the only reason the dark secrets of your past stay out of sight is when others don’t even try to find them.

With so much information so accessible to so many people why does anyone think they can get away with anything?

Of course we all lie at one time or another. Usually it’s to avoid conflict with someone or fudge the truth so that our behavior looks a little better. Sometimes we simply convince ourselves that events transpired a certain way when they really didn’t. Police and prosecutors are well aware that witness memories can be notoriously unreliable.

We tell small lies designed to keep us out of trouble and avoid conflict. We fudge the truth about our accomplishments to impress someone and even if we know what we’re doing in the beginning soon we accept the lie as whole truth.

But how do you explain some of the more outrageous lies that have been part of the public consciousness in recent times. Why does a public figure tell a personal story – such as decorated military service – that can be easily proven false by the public record?

Consider the story of the story of little 3-year-old Victoria Wilcher, disfigured by a pitbull, getting kicked out of a Jackson, Miss. KFC. The girl’s grandparents said that a manager at the fast food restaurant told them to leave because the girl’s scarred face was “disrupting our customers.” The accusation quickly went viral and the fast food chain quickly apologized and pledged $30,000 to the girl’s family for her care. Almost as quickly a local newspaper debunked the story. It not only didn’t happen, it appears that the family had not been in the KFC on that day.

Why did the family believe they could get away it? Didn’t they think someone would check a little further? Or did they believe the public is gullible when it comes to false stories that seem to fit with their deeply held beliefs – in this case businesses are run by heartless people.

The morale is that we need to be skeptical of stories – particularly when they sound too good to be true or fit too neatly into our own beliefs and biases.




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