On one hand I love the way social media enables companies and individuals to be more transparent in what they do.
On the other hand, I despise the prevalence of social media lies.
There’s a certain amount of anonymity involved. That’s always been the case, from the days of old school chat room and message board handles. I feel it’s that sense of anonymity that makes social media spaces such a prime playground for the dishonest among us.
Today I want to share a few of my “favorite” examples of the lies I’ve seen through social media. Then I’d like to hear your thoughts. Does social media make people more likely to lie, or does it just attract those who are already full of shit? And what kinds of lies do you see most often via social media outlets?
Social Media Lies: 5 Examples
I’m not talking about major corporations or politicians here. I want to focus more on everyday folks — my own colleagues in some cases. With that in mind, here are some examples of lies I’ve seen in social media:
Nefarious Post and Comment Deletions
To be clear, I’m not talking about things like deleting spam or abusive blog comments, or even deleting old posts when there’s a valid administrative reason to (outdated content you don’t want to promote to readers anymore or timely announcements that are now irrelevant for example). I’m talking more about post edits and deletions designed to hide past truths.
For example, one freelance colleague I know used to delete old posts sharing an opinion that had since become unpopular. Then, in new posts, they’d claim they never said those things in the first place. This was often a result of them being paid to promote something they used to advocate against.
Others delete things like negative blog comments and then act like everyone agrees with them. Both are a crock. And both are easily caught.
Remember, readers can subscribe to comments or posts including via email (including through third party RSS subscription services, so you can’t prevent this as long as you have feeds). You never know who still has an archive of your old material in their inbox.
Mysterious Changing Stats
Some people are attention-seekers. Others constantly seek validation.
In one case there was a colleague in the latter group. They posted in a comment on a popular blog that they spent X hours per day on something for their own readers. When they didn’t get the oohing and aahing responses rolling in, within days that story changed and they claimed to have invested even more.
On another site where they promoted the content they were seeking validation of, the number magically increased. They were suddenly doing more, and “deserving” of more praise and adoration. I guess they forgot when you post on sites in the same niche chances are good the sites or blogs have shared readers.
I saw similar with another freelance colleague. They were a guest on a popular blog, and in a post there they shared their income numbers (a type of boasting common in the freelance community). They weren’t impressive. And within the next couple of weeks, their story changed. While trying to impress readers on their own blog they touted income stats well into five figures higher than what they’d just disclosed elsewhere.
That’s the kind of thing that happens to liars though; they sometimes forget which lies they’ve told where.
As a writer who understands the importance and value of pen names (and as someone who’s been a victim of cyber stalking), I don’t consider handles themselves to be lies, especially when your handle can be tied to your real name in some way or at least you use it consistently as your online identity. There’s a place for privacy, and there’s value in them in the sense of safety.
But one of those freelance colleagues I mentioned above took the issue of pseudonyms a step further.
On another colleague’s blog they were being criticized. So they commented. And that’s fine. They were invited to do just that. But then they went too far. They commented again, this time anonymously. (They were caught because they forgot to change non-public information tied to their comments — such as your email address and IP address.)
The idea is simple. If people aren’t backing up their point, they comment anonymously or under another handle or name to provide false support for their post or previous comments. In other words, they used sock puppet commenter “accounts.”
This is one of the reasons you can’t judge a blogger’s popularity based on the number of comments or interactions they get. Most are easy to fake (and internet marketers in particular have a habit of finding ways to game every system).
That’s dishonesty plain and simple. And finding this out about a colleague is a surefire way to convince me to drop them — from my subscriptions, from my social media follows, and everything else. After all, if they would lie in that way on someone else’s blog (or even your own), who’s to say they don’t do the same thing on their own to make it look like they have more readers, commenters, or supporters?
Lying about credentials isn’t new to social media. People have “embellished” resumes for ages. But social media seems to incentive it.
Just consider the wave of self-proclaimed social media gurus for example. People twist something small (like follow-spamming their way to 10,000 Twitter followers) into an expert status in social media.
Yet another colleague — a PR writer — I know used a large online community (where I was a moderator at the time) to blatantly lie to prospective clients claiming they had a degree when they didn’t. They were called out on it and tried to say they never claimed that in the first place. Funny thing about the web is archives are usually still publicly available somewhere.
After being exposed, this person practically dropped off the face of the earth. And really, is it worth damaging your career for a quick buck? Never.
Another example was downright laughable. Someone publicly advertised in that same community offering press release writing services. They claimed major corporations flew them all over the country to write their releases. You know you can call bullshit right there. But it got better…
Forgetting others in the community could see their public ad (beyond their prospects) this person messaged me privately since they knew I was a PR professional. They admitted they were a kid working out of their parent’s place, and they practically begged me for advice on getting started.
Why people lie like this is beyond me. They will be found out, even if not usually through their own stupidity of admitting it.
Claims of Uber-Success
Sometimes these lies are rolled up into others, like false credentials. It’s a popular one in the freelance game. One time, for example, I came across a writer claiming they earned six figures. No big deal. It’s hardly uncommon. But this person was using that as a way to attract more readers and attention for their blog.
So I looked at their business site because it never hurts to see what other colleagues are doing and I try to keep a wide network with other successful freelancers. Imagine my surprise when I saw their rate list and their claim to fame was $10 articles. That comes to more than 27 articles every single day — no weekends, no holidays, no sick time, nothing. Right.
The thing is, many people don’t check on claims. One of the biggest repeat liars I’ve seen in the blogging community still has a loyal following because people just don’t pay attention (like how some of their “teaching” was plagiarized from old copywriting textbooks). In the end, it frequently does catch up to you.
So what about you? What kinds of social media lies bother you the most? What seem to be most common these days? Do you think one platform supports liars more than others? Share your thoughts in the comments below.