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Every day we see examples of the degree to which deception is used to manipulate and deceive us. Human nature sadly seems inclined to deceive and to be deceived. This, even though we are taught from a young age that we must not deceive or lie. The truth is that lying has become the norm in our society. With the rapid advance of technology, social media expands the rate of spreading lies throughout our culture. Popular apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and so on have an immense impact on our lives. They allow us to quickly share information, pictures, links, and ideas with other users. However, dishonest advertisers can use social media to prey on consumers with targeted advertisement.
“Deception is a deliberate act with the intent to mislead others while the recipients are not made aware or expect that such an action is taking place and that the goal of the receiver is to transfer that false belief to the deceived ones.” (Tsikerdekis and Zeadally). Examples of deception range from one individual lying to another and cheating on significant other, to the false news in the media, to magazines selling illusion to gullible consumers.
Careful observation can detect deception in real-world encounters through cues, including verbal, body language and in other ways. But detecting deception on media is much more problematic. According to “Online Deception in Social Media” by Michail Tsikerdekis and Sherali Zeadally; from 2005 to 2013 users and developers both saw a 64% increase in the number of people using social media.” Therefore, it’s very likely that 3 out of 5 people you know are on social media. People on social media, especially dating sites, become masters of deception, sharing ideal versions of themselves, omitting their less attractive qualities.
Magazines and TV commercials sell illusion to vulnerable audiences especially younger consumers. For example, illustrated magazines show photos of beautiful models with flawless bodies that do not represent the bodies of everyday Americans. This unrealistic representation drives younger people into thinking they are inadequate; it alienates them and urges them to strive for something unattainable. It is important to educate and warn younger audiences about social media that is the center stage of deception.
Another common lie that appears on social media is the “feel good” story. In the wake of Boston marathon attack, for example, a picture of a First Responder who was kneeling to help a victim became “a man who planned proposal, girlfriend killed.” There was also a fake story of two 8-year-olds who were supposedly killed at the scene. It turned out that the story was created by a fake account on Twitter. Lies like these are used to gin up ugly sentiments: racism, Islamophobia, and so on. It seems that when we are at our most vulnerable moment, there are always people willing to use deception to take advantage of us or our vulnerability.
Deception is a big problem in politics when the line that defines Truth becomes blurred. Politicians, advertisers, and editors have also become adept at using social media, and they are there to stay. They use deception as a manipulative tool in order to advance their own agendas. Political campaign produces ads that target people’s emotions. During the 2016 presidential campaign, false stories aired about both political candidates with regularity.
For example, there was a rumor that the Clinton campaign was running a child sex ring in a pizza parlor in Washington DC and there are many different stories surrounding the gunman evolved in the recent Las Vegas massacre. We rely on journalists for news and information. What happens when the people you trust to bring you credible information unethically betray that trust?
As an example of the consequences of deception in media, consider the case of Jayson Blair. In 2003, Blair, a New York Times reporter, left the news organization in turmoil by committing journalistic fraud and plagiarism. According to the journalists’ investigation team, “Blair lifted materials from other newspapers and wire services.” He also added his own words to the words of people he interviewed. The New York Times went into damage control mode to retrace and correct articles written by Blair. The further they dug, the more apparent became the magnitude of the problem. “Spot checks of the more than 600 articles he wrote before October have found other apparent fabrications, and that inquiry continues. The Times is asking readers to report any additional falsehoods in Mr. Blair\’s work” (The New York Times). The entire incident was a huge blow to the credibility of a venerable American institution.
Deception, unfortunately, is practiced perfectly in our society. Produce lies and spread them far and wide to whoever will listen. “Social media algorithms function at one level like evolutionary selection: Most lies and false rumors go nowhere, but the rare ones with appealing urban-myth ‘mutations’ find psychological traction, then go viral” (New York Times).
Journalists, advertisers and everyday people on the other side of the screen will be dishonest with us and themselves to satisfy a specific agenda. The expansion of social media and the increased ability to perpetuate lies because of it highlight the need for society to think about these issues carefully. As we do so, we should be mindful of the dangers and maintain a healthy, ethical approach as media continues to increase its presence into every aspect of our lives.