Texting is the Perfect Medium for Lying. And People Exploit This Fact

If you can’t afford to be lied to, don’t text. Sauder School of Business researchers at the University of British Columbia recently reinforced the longstanding belief that anonymity contributes to increased lying.

The new UBC study reveals a higher “level of deceit” that people are prepared to use when their communication channel is texting. Compared to a video chat on Skype, texters are considerably more likely to lie in terms of both frequency and severity.

“People are communicating using a growing range of methods, from Twitter to Skype,” says Sauder Associate Professor Ronald Cenfetelli, a co-author on the paper. “As new platforms of communication come online, it’s important to know the risks that may be involved.”

“Our results confirm that the more anonymous the technology allows a person to be in a communications exchange, the more likely they are to become morally lax,” says Sauder Professor Karl Aquino, also one of the co-authors.

Of course, nothing—not even video chat—keeps people as honest as face-to-face communication. This is a key understanding to recognize, especially in the business world. In UBC’s faux broker-and-buyer scheme, buyers who received information via text messages were 95% more likely to report deception than if they had interacted via video, 31% more likely to report deception when compared to face-to-face, and 18% more likely if the interaction was via audio chat. Being aware of potential scrutiny (that is, the other party listening to your voice and watching your face and movements) consistently creates a so-called “spotlight effect” that compels that person to remain honest for fear of being caught in the act.