Lies in digital communication: Recognizing the truth in 3 steps


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Text comes from: Wie man jede Lüge erkennt. Zeichen verstehen, Täuschung durchschauen, Wahrheit ermitteln (2011) of Pamela Meyer, published by Münchener Verlagsgruppe (MVG), Reprints by friendly permission of the publisher.
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The Internet has changed our communication drastically - and made it easy for liars and fraudsters. How can this problem be solved?

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Pamela Meyer is a certified fraud examiner and entrepreneur.

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Modern communication or a brief history of loss of trust

In the past, communication was mostly face to face. Relationships were based on the fact that one regularly acted personally with one another. This is one reason why 80 percent of human communication is non-verbal; the majority of them (65 percent) are taught through body language. Even the white eye skin developed further with us than with other mammals, which made it easier for us to communicate without constantly having to turn our heads. In times when face-to-face conversation was the only form of communication, dozens of subtle clues were available to help us assess the trustworthiness of our counterpart. But when we started using modern technology to communicate across distances, the innate methods of interpreting non-verbal signals that our ancestors had relied on for millennia became useless.

The phone, for example, allowed people living apart from each other to get in touch, but at the same time excluded the possibility of looking at one another during the conversation. Certain signals that could be consciously or unconsciously perceived in direct communication were no longer relevant. All that was left was the words themselves. Even the tone was sometimes distorted by poor reception. The result? A form of communication on which both partners have less influence. Sure, a mother who calls her daughter during the semester may notice that she's only pretending to be learning (while the typing noise is a tell-tale sign that she's writing emails instead). But let's say you are discussing an important order form, which contains small print terms and conditions, with a sales representative that you have never met before: Can both parties really be sure that the other person is honest with them?

How to unmask liars online

Jeff Hancock, assistant professor of communication at Cornell University, and two of his colleagues conducted a study in which 66 volunteers were each to be paired and asked to send chat messages to each other. One partner per couple should lie on a given set of topics. The "liars" had five minutes to prepare before the test started. The results, which were published in 2004, are a revelation for everyone who communicates online - which of course almost everyone does today. Hancock and his co-authors found that the 33 liars were more communicative than their partners and used about a third more words than those who were honest. They also used pronouns and sensory verbs such as "see", "hear" and "feel" more often. Hancock believes that the message was created by trying to tell a more detailed and therefore more convincing story. The liars remained undetected in this experiment. But Hancock's results show that people who are lied to online ask questions more often than is the case with sincere correspondence. “Although the test subjects were not aware of the fact that they were being confronted with lies, the data indicate that they must have been implicitly aware that they were being lied to.

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»Let's schedule a video conference ... No, I'll email you ... Halt! I think I'd better call. ”Nevertheless, the phone can be a useful tool for reading between the lines of what has been said. Linguistic characteristics such as pitch, volume and speaking speed make up almost 12 percent of our communication. You can negotiate with someone over the phone and read hesitation from a pause, from a sigh of frustration and from a short laugh of nervousness. But how often do we still use the phone these days? Isn't it easier to contact someone with a quick email? Not always. Paradoxically, the traceability of emails makes them unsuitable for transferring important or confidential information. "I'd better call you," we say whenever there is something to discuss that shouldn't exist in a written form. Fewer personal conversations, fewer phone calls - in the end we only have words. And believe it or not, the words themselves make up only 7 percent of human communication. We use language every day, we choose it wisely when we can, and yet the words reveal only a small fraction of what we actually communicate.

New media: how secure is the information?

Although no human voices can be heard through our modern communication channels, they still transmit a lot of data. The new media have become silent - but not without a statement. The computing power of PCs doubles within 18 months, companies expand enormously quickly, and the amount of data is constantly increasing. The Internet and other communication technologies provide us with more information than we can ever use. 210 billion emails are sent per day alone, which is the amount of mail that is sent in a year.

Three million images - enough to fill a 375.000-page photo album - are uploaded to flickr.com every day. Bloggers post 900.000 new ones Article per day.24 Countless people, organizations and regions contribute to this enormous flood of information - some are renowned, others are relatively unknown, and others are completely anonymous. It has become an arduous task to decide which sources are worth paying attention to. We can no longer rely on a handful of national newspapers, television and radio stations, as before, to decide on the importance of news.

Video conferencing with no future. Why?

Video conferencing allows employees to have long-distance conversations where they can see their counterpart. Although this saves a lot of time and travel costs, the likelihood that this practice will become everyday work is rather low. Although Skype and other companies offer free conferences, most industries are in no hurry to take advantage of them. In the business environment, video conferencing is a deterrent and unnatural - it may be acceptable to communicate with a friend or family member via Skype, but this medium is not suitable for business meetings. The reason is that there is no direct eye contact during video conferences - even though you can see the person you are talking to. Most video conferences are also recorded and archived, rendering them unusable for confidential content. Jim Van Meggelen, President and Technical Director of Core Telecom Innovations, explains this phenomenon as follows:

»The focus of the screen does not correspond to the focus of the camera, so it is impossible to look directly at the conversation partner and to look at him at the same time. Either you look at the screen or into the camera. This creates a very idiosyncratic conversation situation, because when you look at the screen, the camera records how you look down and not towards the person opposite you. On the other hand, if you look into the camera, the person you are talking to looks as if you were looking at him directly, but you will not be able to actually look him in the face because your eyes are not directed at the screen. People appreciate communication, but they also value their privacy. «

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Fake news - which news is actually correct?

A rumor launched on a blog, or the unconventional opinion of a political rapporteur, can be conveyed to so many Internet users in a short period of time that thousands of people consider it an irrefutable fact within a few minutes. In the United States, for example, the persistent rumor persisted that during the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center, office workers "surfed" on the outside of the twin towers and thus brought themselves to safety. Who puts the mass of additional information and half-truths online? The anonymity of many bloggers seems to give their words more power. We don't know them, but it's hard not to pay attention to them.

What if we ignored her and your messages turned out to be correct? So weren't we in danger of missing the next important insider tip or trend? We are concerned that our competitors may be listening to a 24-year-old Twitter expert who claims to know important information about the next emerging market and believe that ignoring it is too risky. So we click from one "cutting-edge" website to the next until we become more and more dependent on the advice and information that people give that we will never meet and who have received advice and information from people they have never met before .

Exposing online lies in 3 steps

We have to judge for ourselves which knowledge is useful and reliable, and the results are mixed at best. After all, it's much easier to go online and browse the web than to struggle through the New York Times. Why not read the summary of a message rather than waste time researching the sources - especially when the online author can present the information in a more amusing and pointed way than the rather brittle daily newspaper? We rely more and more on secondary information and hearsay.

1. The old tools and why they don't help

The military and intelligence agencies have been funding research into human deception for decades. The first and best known technical tool that was developed for this was the polygraph or the so-called lie detector. This machine has existed in various versions since the early 20th century. Usually this invention is attributed to William Moulton Marston, the creator of the cartoon character Wonder Woman. (You may recall that Wonder Woman used to trap villains with her golden lasso, which forced everyone to tell the truth.) The polygraph these days simultaneously measures a person's heart rate, blood pressure, respiratory rate, and perspiration while interviewing is - the underlying theory is that any registered physiological response is likely due to the stress you are exposed to when you lie.

Unfortunately, this theory has proven to be rather unreliable. Polygraph tests are rarely approved in court, although government agencies still use them and developers continue to refine the technology. A further developed device, which is no longer trusted in legal matters, is the so-called electroencephalogram (EEG), which is used to measure the electrical activity in the brain. The theory on which the EEG is based assumes that someone who tries to make up a plausible story in an interrogation has a significantly higher neuronal activity than someone who speaks the truth. After all, the honest person has a simple task to do: to remember an event and to reproduce it.

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2. The new tools

On the other hand, a person who has an intention to deceive must first make up a story. Your brain will therefore likely be much more active. Experts are also looking at the thermal scanner, a heat-sensitive camera that measures elevated temperature. Due to an increased blood flow, according to some scientists, this can be determined around the eye when someone is lying. Researchers are also testing infrared brain scans, eye trackers, and even special magnetic resonance imaging (magnetic resonance imaging) for the potential to read the electrical and cognitive signals that our bodies send out when we try to dupe others.

Maybe one day these technologies will come in handy for the general population, maybe not. But even if this were the case, who would go to work with an EEG device every day? Fortunately, you don't have to take such drastic measures to know whether you can trust your colleagues, business partners or consultants. The best means to track down lies are already available. You just have to learn to use them properly: your ability to interpret. You can learn how to hear what is not said and how to decipher what is said. You can learn to pay attention to voice modulation and pitch and to correctly interpret body language and facial expressions. So it is quite possible to become a human lie detector.

3. The manuscript analysis

A study in the journal Applied Cognitive Psychology suggests that graphology could one day identify truth and lie as reliably as lie detectors. Dr. Gil Luria and Dr. Sara Rosenblum, a scientist at Haifa University in Israel, asked volunteers to write two paragraphs, one about truthful things, the other about things that have gotten together. The test subjects used wireless electronic pens with pressure-sensitive tips. For each paragraph, the researchers measured how firmly the volunteers pressed the pen, comparing the length of the lines, the height and width of the letters, and the time it took to lift the pen off the digital tablet.

There were clear and uniform differences in the writing of honest and dishonest paragraphs. The test subjects pressed harder when they lied. The lines of the handwritten font - the height and length of the letters - were also significantly different. The Haifa researchers believe that the difference is caused by the cognitive stress we experience when we put lies on paper. It seems difficult for us to write in a relaxed manner if we don't stick to the truth. "A lie detector that analyzes the handwriting has many advantages over existing devices," explained Luria and Rosenblum. »It is a less unpleasant situation for the person examined, it is more objective and independent of human judgment. The system also provides size values ​​that are difficult for the person to control while they are active. ”30 Perhaps this is a good excuse for not sending thank-you notes for gifts that you don't know what to do with.

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