Social Media Lies: How Social Media Enables Liars

Does the potential for anonymity in social media bring out the liars in us? From lying about credentials to creating sock puppet accounts, let's explore some social media lies.

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like deleting spam or abusive blog comments, or even deleting old posts when there’s a valid administrative reason to (outdated content you don’t want to promote to readers anymore or timely announcements that are now irrelevant for example).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.

False Identities

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?

False Credentials

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.

Jenn Mattern is the owner of 3 Beat Media, a 3-prong business where she offers consulting and freelance writing services (predominantly for small and mid-sized online businesses and creative professionals). Through this business, she also runs a variety of online properties and manages a small publishing brand.

Jenn has over 20 years' experience in PR and marketing, specializing in digital PR and new media (blogging, social media, SEO, thought leadership publication, and related areas). She also has 25 years' experience as a professional writer and editor, with 19 years' professional blogging and web publishing / development experience.

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28 thoughts on “Social Media Lies: How Social Media Enables Liars”

  1. I guess I am just not wired right-or wrong, based on your perspective. I cannot even come up with some of these ideas for “self-promotion,” but then I never claimed to be bright. (if you find something to the contrary on an archived post, please let me know-I’ll delete it immediately.) 🙂

    Since I am so – ahem – chronologically seasoned, I tend to let a lot slide as “their thing” rather than expending energy on it. But, if there is one thing that I would think everyone should know by now is the internet word is forever and sooner or later, something will bite you in the butt.

    I have wondered at the “success” of some popular sites, but figured I don’t have to like what others do – and often don’t. Interesting how each of us defines success.

    • I wouldn’t care in most cases because it doesn’t affect me. But it’s another story when one of the most popular bloggers in our niche is caught lying repeatedly in some of these ways, misleading my own audience in the process. Or when the lies of others involve myself or my (qualified) colleagues losing gigs to people who lie about their credentials to get them. We don’t have to like what others do. But I think doing something some people disagree with and being blatantly dishonest are very different things.

  2. I make light of the situation, but couldn’t agree more that blatant lies are a totally different kettle of fish – particularly if it harms someone else. For me, lying about credentials is on the same plane as falsifying a resume (as you mention in your post). I like to believe that sooner or later that kind of thing catches up to the person – even if it’s not in my lifetime. 🙂

  3. It’s funny you should write about this, as just the other day I was on discussing these issues with an important and influential client while we waited for permission to take off in his private jet… but seriously, yeah, as someone who did the work to get the credentials, false credentials is the one that chaps my ass. As to false identities, it seems like it would be a lot more fun to flame your own posting anonymously than to agree with yourself. Sneakier too. Uber Success: I sort of have sympathy for the devil here. I could understand if someone was just starting to be a consultant that they might embellish a little bit. Regardless of actual ability, no one wants to hire a consultant that’s just starting out, except maybe their mom. Fake it ’til you make it, as they say. Just as long as they can do what they say they can do when they finally get hired to do it.
    But I think that almost as bad as the lying is being incompetent at it. They should at least show some craftsmanship, come up with consistent and credible lies, maintain their false personas and use different IP addresses for them. If you’re not going to do it well, why do it at all?

    • The “fake it ’til you make it” thing can work to a degree… but it doesn’t have to be dishonest despite the phrase. It’s more about creating a professional appearance — dressing for the job you want…. A professional website, a few good samples testimonials (even if it was done for free — get respectable clips and feedback from nonprofits for example), and show you know what you’re doing through your own blog or products. People will figure out you know your stuff and they’ll hire you. Or they’ll see that you don’t, and you know you still have some work to do. Beginning independent consulting is often about your network more than anything else — and people you know outside of business often have the connections to help you whether you realize it immediately or not.

      As for incompetent liars, I’ve seen some doozies. Not only are there ones who troll as multiple people without changing their IP address, but what amuses me more is when they do think to use a different IP but they still use the same email address, website address, or have their full name included in one.

      As for self-bashing, that might just amuse me enough to let it go through on my sites. 🙂 Then again, I guess it’s not my amusement they’re after….

  4. It was interesting reading your article because this blog I am writing right now is actually an assignment for my PR class to get involved with social media and see how it is utilized in the business world. I’ve wondered how much weight a company can put on its information received from social media outlets based on the fact of how skewed it potentially may be. The questions that come to mind when addressing this issue are, How much influence can social media information actually have on a company, knowing the information may be in question? Also, acknowledging the fact these technological tools appear to be here to stay, What can be done to improve the integrity of their use? I would like to think if a person continually offers false information, it will catch up with them in the long run, but there clearly is no timetable to suggest how long that may take. It’s hard to imagine what compels a person to dig such a deep hole without having the ability to get themselves out of it, but I guess the world takes all kinds.

    • Fortunately alongside the less-than-ethical dishonest types, there’s plenty of honesty in social media as well. It still gives consumers voices, and therefore gives feedback outlets for companies. Yes, you’ll have the trolls and fakes, and in some industries they can have a real negative impact. But for most companies I’d say they’re capable of weeding out the extremes (both the haters and evangelists) to get the real picture of what their customers think and want. So in that sense, as much as I hate the overused buzzword “influence,” the information gathered through social media interactions really can have an honest and positive influence on businesses.

      As for digging the holes they can’t get out of, I’m not sure the worst of them care. They can just quit and anonymously become someone else somewhere else these days — just like the freelancer I mentioned who lied to clients in communities about their academic credentials. They disappeared. And I’ve heard from colleagues they resurfaced using another name a while back — although thankfully I haven’t had to deal with them again since then. So can they quit one thing and change a name or pretend to be an expert in subject matter B on a whim? Sure. But that also involves starting over and losing all of the branding, reputation, and visibility they built previously. Sometimes rebranding is a necessity in business. But if you keep f*ing up along those lines you’ll soon realize you’re constantly stuck at the beginning. So all I can do is hope that’s enough to stop most people from that kind of behavior, at least after the first mistake.

  5. I don’t want to engage in too much schadenfreude, but I am waiting for some of these people to be exposed. Why? Because it frustrates me to no end that liars are succeeding in deceiving so many people — and that people are so enamored of them. Biggest frustration? The changing of one’s tune to fit the current agenda, like deleting posts & saying “I never said that.” Or claiming that you didn’t make comments & instead someone else was posing as you. I’m skeptical. Maybe it’s the Midwestern part of me. Or the jaded part of me.

    I would say that social media enables liars more than it supports them. But I do also love the voice it gives to consumers – and that companies are finally learning to meet consumers where they hang out online.

    • I hear you. But I’ve been there, done that with one of them, and the cult-like following is disturbing sometimes. Don’t have the patience for it — although if push comes to shove I will eventually do it. The problem is more that exposing all of it would involve naming others involved as well and they’d rather not be (others the individual has lied to, used, etc.). If even a handful of people who have proof of the lies came out at once, the person could never explain it away or get past it. On a positive note, I do occasionally have people contacting me who notice things on their own, sometimes because they know I don’t care for the individual and other times because they think we’re close colleagues (don’t ask me why). So not everyone is blinded.

      As for the one who lied about the degree, she was actually exposed by Angela Hoy’s site a while back (a few years now I think). That’s where I saw her claim that she never said she had a degree. Thing is, she did… publicly in a community where I happened to be one of the community managers at the time. I mentioned that to Hoy but didn’t see it added to the thread. But there was plenty of damning evidence already there that shut that writer up. The only worrying thing is that another colleague told me she’s back at it, just using a different name (which I don’t recall). And that’s really the saddest part of social media’s role — allowing people to change identities or “expertise” like they change their underwear. The fact that you mention the “someone else was posing as you” thing which I didn’t mention makes me think you know who I’m talking about in the first case though. Unless of course that’s just another common line these days.

    • That Becky used the word “schadenfreude” intrigues me. 🙂

      My biggest peeve is the blogger who deletes comments that are contradictory. I delete clear spam, but I don’t delete comments when someone is contradicting. I’ve even kept up ones that go straight to blatant name-calling tactics. It’s not a reflection on ME that these people chose to act like that – it’s a reflection on them. If I feel there’s a point in there they’re trying to make, I’ll respond. If not, let their words lie unanswered.

      I’ve seen some people do the switcheroo on the numbers, too. It makes no sense. Why not just take the lower numbers as a sign you need to do things differently?

      False identities are easy to uncover. My stat tracker pinpoints their location, ISP, and gateway address. They don’t realize they leave crumbs behind. I’ve had people on my blog go all mellow and sweet and then turn on me in an anonymous post, thinking I couldn’t guess who they were. I didn’t need to – the stats told me everything.

      • Agreed. Being contradictory alone is not enough of a reason to delete comments. I’ve also let plenty personally insulting ones get through (although I do trash those attack comments if they’re about one of my contributors or another commenter — that crosses a line, and it’s also laid out in my comment policies). The other things I don’t put up with are blatant lies (such as putting words in someone’s mouth when the evidence is to the contrary — which I’ll usually point out once and only once), people posting anonymously to support their own previous comments (in which case my comment policies dictate they’ll be named and shamed and all comments attributed to them), or people inciting any kind of gang-attack comments.

        I’ll never understand the numbers thing either. It’s one thing if you really upped your game over time. Something else entirely if your numbers magically change retroactively within days.

        And yeah. I know your anonymous issue. Funny thing is, plenty of us already guessed who it was. 😉 People really don’t realize how obvious they are sometimes. Or how many people notice. I had to deal with a similar troll going after me and a contributor across multiple blogs — who we ultimately tied to another known culprit. I can’t believe some still don’t get the IP issue or realize that the site owners see those and the email address you provide. But even when they are slightly brighter, there are ways to figure out identities if you really want to. Covered some of it in an old post “How to Hunt and Kill a Blog Troll.”

      • It comes from the pleasure I would derive if those people were finally exposed for what they are and the fallout that would probably result – and I feel a tiny bit guilty for feeling that way / wishing for it.

  6. Lori-we really have to stop this “emulating” thing-LOL! Becky’s comment just popped up in my Blackberry and I simply HAD to come over and comment on the use of the word schadenfreude. Love it & am giving notice I will steal it for use as soon as I can figure out how to use it. 🙂

    I guess I’m just too new to the blogging thing to have faced the issue of anonymous, nasty comments (or even non-anonymous-I think I just created a new word-feel free to steal it, Becky). 🙂 As naive as I might be, even I know that little, if anything, on the internet is anonymous or deleted permanently. But, then I never understood the inner workings of a liar’s mind. The threat of being publicly called out is enough to keep me from inventing credentials-although the way I was raised wouldn’t even make falsifying credentials a passing thought of consideration.

    Now I wish I was around longer just so I knew the inside scoop. 🙂

    • Awwww. Well don’t feel too left out Cathy. You’ll get yours in time I’m sure. 😉

      Actually, I’m surprised given that you write about health. I’ve seen readers go absolutely insane over health-related articles in plenty of places. So count your blessings I guess. 🙂

    • @Cathy – I had no idea using that would elicit such a response.

      That’s your challenge for the next week – find a way to incorporate it in conversation or a blog post. 😀

  7. You’ve got me so curious. I’ve often wondered how some folks could be so “successful” when it’s apparent their skills are not there. Though I always maintain a bit of skepticism, I never really considered just how far some people would go to make themselves look good. I don’t have that much energy!

    • I could see it taking a lot of energy if they actually tried to keep up with their lies. But sometimes they don’t even bother doing that much. That’s how the fake-degree-girl got caught. And that was among other lies exposed on Hoy’s site (lies to her own contractors she sub-contracted work to). It was just crazy. And I know from other writers that same person not only publicly claimed to be incredibly successful, but they then went around asking colleagues for money because they couldn’t pay their bills. I’ll never understand the thought-process.

  8. It supports liars. It supports and displays many human flaws. Online it’s much easier to be who you want to be when in reality you are not. Once a friend added me on myspace under a false identity. Then on facebook an ex’s friend ‘friended’ me so my ex could just see what I was up to. This is why I don’t like social networking sites (facebook, twitter and myspace) Sure they could be a great community where people all over the world share innovative ideas that can make our world a better place but it’s not. Instead it’s a platform for the shallow, shameless and dumb to share their most trivial and stupid thoughts such as, “Eating a bowl of rice” “Going to the supermarket” “I just found out my cat is a boy” It puzzles me,…wasn’t the internet meant to make us more connected, smarter and evolved? Instead it’s pointing out our biggest human flaws such as insecurity, narcissism, and ego. We are not more connected to each other. We only becoming more dependent on our computers and the sigh of relief once you log into your (life) twitter account. The persona you have online is always the one you wish you had in reality.

  9. There have been liars throughout history and there will always be liars – especially now that the media and schools have conditioned people to believe dishonesty is a virtue as long as you don’t get caught.

    The bottom line is that we can not protect the naive from being fleeced. Most people will not throw off their conditioning and quit believing what they read and are told and taught no matter how much proof you can show them about what the real truth is.

    On top of that, there is so much manufactured “proof” that even wise people can not always determine what is true and what is lies. Being widely believed does NOT make something true. Most people once thought the world was flat and the sun revolved around the earth – their believing did not change the truth.

    The Internet does make it easier for the few who have discernment to find each other and share what we know. It speeds up the process of discovery and enables brainstorming to decide where the truth really lies. And it allows us to share what we believe for others to find. (Best not to offer what you know to people directly – they will only think you’re crazy for objecting to the insanity selfishness, love of money and greed engenders.)

    My advice is develop discernment for yourself and share it with those whose minds are open to it, but give up trying to save the masses. They are NOT going to listen. (Does this remind anyone of scenes from the movie The Matrix – it should.) Insights are often shared in fiction for those who will pick up on them.

  10. This lying stuff really irks me. IDK why people see negative comments are such a bad thing where they have to delete them. Honestly, if your points were clear and you are confident, a negative comment really should not be the death of you. Disagreements lead to discussion which I think makes you even more credible. Also, if you are wrong, wouldn’t you look more respectable if you correct yourself? Deleting neg pertinent comments does not make sense.

    Don’t get me started on false credentials. I got my BS in nutrition and you don’t have any idea how much bologna I see when it comes to exercise and nutrition gurus. People who actually know about the field knows that the person probably never lifted a weight in their life or have some backwards logic when it comes to nutrition. Too bad these “gurus” claim all of this success and credential to take advantage of a public who is trying to live healthy lives.

    Great article! Way to call the phonies out! =)

  11. I have to agree that it’s very easy for people to get away with lies on social media sites. With more and more people relying on social media and trusting complete strangers with information it’s only a matter of time before something bad might happen. Imagine trusting someone online that they might find you a new job or something that might very much affect you, then to be let down and realize you were simply being naive? People need to be careful with who they trust on social media sites, it’s too open right now as far as I am concerned.

  12. I totally agree with this perspective. Just recently, I was thinking about how social media could potentially be the scene for spinning and astro-turfing. We have seen some examples already of how companies have been caught. Now companies learned from those mistakes.

    It is apparent that companies do need to have a presence on social media, but how can a person determine that everything that is supposed to be transparent is not promotional? If a brand needs to be a trend on social media in order for it to be considered for press coverage, then how does a brand get to that point without resorting to extreme measures?

    • Being transparent generally is a promotional tactic, so I wouldn’t separate the two. If they’re doing it solely to build brand trust, than there’s an underlying business goal there. That said, from the consumer perspective I still prefer to see that. I think there’s a difference between promotional tactics and inappropriate promotional tactics. Being transparent is a good option in my opinion (as is good customer service or special offers that really appeal to the target buyers). So if the brand is on social media, assume they’re doing it with some kind of promotional goal. If they say otherwise, they’re lying. Just remember that alone isn’t a reason to dismiss them. They’re in business. Of course they’re going to want to promote their business interests through various marketing, advertising, and PR tactics.

      I’m not sure why there’s an assumption that brands have to be a trend on social media to get press coverage. There are plenty of other ways to get press coverage. If a company’s primary tactic for achieving that is to become a trend on Twitter or something, I’d be concerned that they don’t have anything better to do with their resources that would be truly newsworthy. When it comes to social media, keep the focus as much on your customers as you can. Answer their questions. Tell them things they might be curious about or interested in. Share links and resources they’d find useful or amusing. Do whatever you can to give them what they want or need within the scope of what the company can handle. Don’t over-promise for example if you don’t have the authority to make real changes.

      If you really want press coverage and trending status on social media sites, do something newsworthy outside the social media space. Then use social media tools to help spread the word.

      My $.02.


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