Let’s face it – we all lie. Whether it is a little white lie, or a grand deception, we’re all guilty at some point or another. In the age of social media, where nothing is truly “private” anymore, lying is getting more and more difficult to get away with. Aisha Tyler even goes so far as to propose that “Lying. Is. Over.” in her article “The Ultimate Glamour Don’t: Lying. Ever. About Anything.” that appears in Glamour’s October 2013 issue. Tyler describes the incident with Anthony Weiner, who just could not handle the responsibility of owning a camera phone. She makes the point that due to the Internet and social media, “it’s no longer a question of if you’ll get caught in a lie – it’s a question of when” (96). It used to be that if you lied about where you were or who you were with, there was no actual way to establish evidence against your claim: “these lies, once so difficult to refute, can now be blown wide with a few key-strokes” (96). Media technology, while allowing us to have the freedom to form our identities in our own way, simultaneously have the potential to dissolve any illusions that we may present to others over our social media platforms. This power is what leads Tyler, and perhaps others, to decide that lying is finished – we do not have as much control over what parts of us are exposed as we thought.
The fact that social media provides us with the ability to create multiple and dynamic identities online blurs the concept of lying, making it more of a scale with gray area than something black and white. Zizi Papacharissi explores the idea of performativity in her essay, “Without You, I’m Nothing: Performances of Self on Twitter.” She says that “people rarely self-identify as performers when engaging in everyday rituals, but they frequently adjust their behaviors for different audiences” (1). It makes sense – we wouldn’t act the same way around our boss as we would around our family. But doesn’t performance of the self fall somewhere on the scale of deception? Papacharissi mentions that people perform on “multiple stages (2).” A person’s tweets might not correlate at all with the information they present on Facebook, since they have different audiences and must act accordingly. It is hard to determine exactly who you are talking to at times, hence the phenomenon of catfishing.
Catfishing is a really great example of performance on social media, and if you watch MTV you know that most of the time, people who catfish others are caught. According to Urban Dictionary, a catfish is “someone who pretends to be someone they’re not using…social media to create false identities, particularly to pursue deceptive online romances.” Supporting Tyler’s perspective in her Glamour article, the hosts on Catfish: The TV Show go in search of the catfish, and most of the time they find someone who has developed either a partially or completely falsified online identity. With the use of media, those who catfish are even more vulnerable to being found out. The hosts, Nev and Max, find out the truth by searching online and contacting people who appear to have some connection with the catfish. All they need is internet, and the knowledge to use social media like Facebook and search engines like Google to figure out who is behind the profile. Being a catfish is especially nasty, since the person behind it is consciously making up a portrayal of a person who is not themselves. Although we perform on different “stages,” usually these portrayals all make up parts of who we are. Giddens says that authenticity is a consistent narrative of self. We do not have a “true” self within us, but we reflect an image that is affected by our experiences and outside influences. To be authentic the way Giddens defines it, our online and offline portrayals should be consistent, and they should reflect a similar image of us into the world. However, this is often not entirely the case. Nancy Baym says in her book, Personal Connections in the Digital Age, that anonymity over the internet lowers the social risk of communicating. Most of us have traits that we would rather not share with those we interact with, especially in a first impression. Online, we can conceal those traits, for a time. We are inclined to do this since Baym suggests that since we’re getting only a small amount of information online, if we like what we see, we are more likely to fill in the rest positively. This means that there is hardly a risk in communicating with someone online, because we feel more secure that they will find us appealing.
Lying offline, or in person, is often much riskier. Our body language and facial expressions provide certain clues that we are being deceptive, clues that cannot appear in our online representations of ourselves. However, social media may be turning on us. While we are able to build our own profiles with whatever information we want, social media “has given others the power to strip our facades bare” (Glamour, 96).