Separating Fact From Fiction: An Examination of Deceptive Self-Presentation in Online Dating Profiles is a really interesting paper by Catalina L. Toma and Jeffrey Hancock of Cornell University and Nicole Ellison Michigan State University . People who don’t use the Internet much regard online dating as an area that is filled with liars – largely due to a small number of gross liars that are well publicised (EG people conducting net-relationships while lying about their gender), but the evidence suggests that this is not the case.
The first point this paper made which I found to be particularly interesting is that anyone who desires a meeting in person will be limited in their lies (EG they have to post a real photograph of themself). So it seems that someone who doesn’t want to be lied to should insist on phone calls and meetings in person without much delay – the worst horror stories about online dating seem to concern people who interact over the net for many months before meeting. Maybe it would be a good strategy for users of singles sites to have a paragraph stating “I want to talk to you after receiving X messages” where X is some number significantly less than 10.
The next point was that connections to the real-world persona decrease the ability to lie, lying on a dating site that is only read by other singles is going to be easier than lying on your favorite social networking site, personal web-site, blog, or any other online resource that is read by people who know you. So someone who didn’t want to be lied to could demand the link to other online resources of the person that they are corresponding to.
Also the ability to track different versions of the profile decreases the ability to lie. It would be interesting if some of the singles sites added a history tracking feature so that it was possible to see the previous versions of someone’s profile. But even without such a feature the need to have a single profile greatly decreases the ability to lie. When trying to impress someone in a bar I believe that it is standard practice to pretend to be interested in whatever interests them, but on a profile page it is necessary to provide a short list of interests that remains relatively static.
Later in the paper there is an analysis of the average discrepancies of the profiles, which in most cases are small enough that they would not be noticed when meeting in person. But it does note that there were a few extreme lies (such as someone misrepresenting their age by 11 years).
Near the end of the paper there is a brief description of some related research. One interesting point is that even when there is no way for a liar to be caught (EG online discussion forums in which no meeting in person is planned) most people will still tend not to lie much. Great lies require a change in self-concept, and most people don’t want to think of themself as a liar.
It seems to me that this paper provides strong evidence to show that no-one should be afraid of being lied to on an Internet singles site and it can also be used to form strategies to avoid being the victim of a lie. So for those of you who are single and afraid of singles sites, fear no more!