Online Personalities: Sometimes people are not what they seem…

NeoBlade TaroTard Chiisuki
Staff members from left to right: NeoBlade, TaroTard & Chiisuki

TaroTard: When you are speaking to someone on MSN how do you know the person you’re speaking to is really your friend?

And when I say really your friend, I am not talking about everything you hear on the news these days, because yes that is going on all the time and it’s disgusting. I am talking to a topic closer to home.

How do you know that this person you have never met before but you have been online friends with for several months/ years is really real?

It’s so easy for somone to go online and create a completely new personality an online personality, it happens all the time these days.
Unfortunately in the past I have learned this lesson the hard way, I was friends with a girl for just over a year and went to stay with her in Canada for 2 weeks, but when I got there she wasn’t that nice to me at all really, we had days where we were friends like we were online but at other times she just ignored me and was even quite spiteful and rude to me, I feel.

For some reason I have really been thinking about this a lot recently and so decided to start a discussion to get other opinions.
When you are speaking to someone on MSN it’s not always truthul. When you’re on the phone the person can hear your voice and sense your honesty, that plus you are put on the spot for an answer you have to give it up right away. On MSN/AIM/ICQ (etc.) however you can take your time and edit your answer as you see fit. You can make it sound how you want to sound all honesty disappears. Some people don’t give an answer to a question, they create one.

In real life you might be shy and confident but online you may come across as outgoing and flirty. Or it could work the other way in real life you might be a bit of a perv and a bit big headed but online you come across as modest and friendly.
The issue is you can grow to trust someone on MSN but in the end if you have not met the person in real life you know pretty much nothing about the person and you may find your trust is too easily given…

So my question is, do you think this kind of behaviour is acceptable? Is it ok to create an online personality (and in effect lie to those you call friends)? Is there a way you can know if someone is being honest on MSN/AIM/ICQ etc? If so how? Have you been a victim to anything like this in the past? And do you believe there is anyway in which this kind of behaviour can be prevented?

This one particularly hits close to home with me due to several instances, a lot I would rather forget. I dislike how people use the internet to create the person they always wanted to be rather than just be themselves. I often compare the internet to alcohol as in a lot of circumstances it allows you to disregard inhibitions. Your judgement is often clouded and I believe because you are in a safe environment i.e. your own home as opposed to a club etc you open up more freely and often disclose information you wouldn’t dream of telling your family or even partner and yet this stranger online knows all your deepest darkest secrets.

The internet can be a great tool for those who are shyer, from a small town or even live an alternative lifestyle to meet people who are like minded. The problem being the person you are speaking to isn’t often 100% honest, I often hear people claiming I have this or I have that etc. Point is why do people feel the need to boast online and pretend to be someone they aren’t? You often never end up meeting the people you speak to so what is the point when in reality. I guess from what I have witnessed in the past people do it to boost their own ego’s, those who lack confidence in the ‘real world’ can be the confident person they always dreamed of within this second life.

If you consider it discovering the internet is like being ‘born again’ to many people, they can have a blank canvas to work with where no one knows what they have done in reality, no one knows you were the loser at school or that you work a boring mundane job, on the internet in a sense you can become anyone you wish to be, much like playing fancy dress or acting you can create an entirely new personality and for many this is one of the very attractive feature’s of the internet. Just look at the number of people who play Second Life, WoW and many other MMORPG’s where you can even create your own avatar which if you play it for long enough some people can even forget who they really are, their alternative persona becoming the more dominant one.

Sadly I can not see how this can be prevented as until every person is truly happy within themselves there will always be internet ‘fakes’, people who have to be someone else just to feel better about themselves. You often find a lot of people who by nature are compulsive liars use the internet to feed their need. Some people are just incapable of telling the truth and the internet makes this easy. Others just want to get close to people they never could in reality, so they lie about who they are. What is sad is these people don’t realise that it is the illusion others like not themselves. I do find it hard to understand anyone who could be happy with themselves that they need to lie to get people to like them.

The only way I have found to work out who is telling the truth and who is lying is to copy and save conversations with people, if they contradict themselves or if just plain alarm bells ring in your head walk away. You lose nothing if you lose an internet person, Also it is a good idea until you feel truly comfortable with that person to keep ‘reality’ and the internet separate. You often find people become immersed with their internet friends and forget those they have in reality due to them being less fun. Of course this isn’t entirely true but I think the thrill of speaking to someone different brings out most people’s adventurous nature. Fantasy isn’t always better than reality even if to some people it may seem so because at the end of the day when you lie in your bed you are back in the ‘real world’, you are the same person who is shy or was picked on, or never achieved what they believed they should have not the fantasy you have created you don‘t change just because of something you typed online.

TaroTard: I know it is both easier to lie and be honest on MSN, I think it’s like you say because one you’re in your house and feel completely safe and comfortable (never really thought about it but it’s so true) and they lie because it’s easy to and it doesn’t always feel like you’re lying.
I think this is why you have to be weary. It’s a good idea saving convos though, would be interesting to compare, to be honest though these days I don’t really talk to a lot of people that I have never met, since my learning experience actually ^^; wonder if it had a subconscious affect on me haha.

I have noticed though that I have a couple of real life friends that talk completely different online and it’s what brought this topic to the front of my mind really. I always want to ask ‘why are you being like that?’ I’d much prefer them to be themselves than put up a front it seems really silly and sometimes it annoys me a little because I know it isn’t them. These aren’t particularly close friends and I think their online personalities hinder that because they then come across as dishonest to me.

I do not understand myself why people have to lie though. In the end it’s not only doing the other person a diservice but themselves too. I always feel incredibly guilty if I lie about myself online, I felt bad having a male avatar as a mule on one site once, because I’m not male I actually stated in the signature for that particular avatar that I was actually a girl in real life haha ^^;

The second life thing has caught my attention I remember my Mom mentioned a while back that it was on TV. It seems a biy … wow! to me… it’s really a second life, I guess where you can be who you want to be.
Personally even though I’m not always happy with myself I would much prefer to be myself than anyone or anything else, so I will always be honest on these kind of sites.

Obviously I think it’s completely wrong and some people take it way too far, it can be quite scary when you think about it…

NeoBlade: It does raise a lot of questions and something I wanted to explore more about, more specifically in Online Safety however this is a very good start. Many people though sadly do lie out of their own teeth online to get attention to themselves most likely because in reality they could never command it for whatever reason. I’m pretty sure that if they were as open or as friendly in person then they would be able to make new friends or acquaintances at least without too much trouble. However the temptation of being ‘larger than life’ online is often too much to resist.

There are many people in real life that are really fantastic to speak to but online they feel like a totally different person. This is not because their personality as such has drastically changed. It is just I think we take it for granted that everyone uses MSN or other Instant Messaging systems all the time and expect the same level of transparency online as they do offline. Not everyone are able to do so really however the main issue is the reverse… I.E The people you talk to on MSN are really lively, bubbly and friendly yet in person they are not and quite the opposite as TaroTard pointed out earlier in her post. I find these characters more suspectable really since if they make the effort to converse online and you know they have the ability to hold a conversation, then why not at least show a glimpse of that when you meet up? You do have to take account of how shy a person might be as well, but then if they are comfortable enough to speak to you beforehand and know it is safe to (as in you also give the same amount of effort back to the conversation) then they should feel comfortable enough.

Points made earlier about having a Second Life/Persona online often happens and there is nothing wrong for example in questioning certain things to find out the truth. There has been times where for example asking for certain bits of information there was a break in conversation flow, allowing them to think of something up or stalling the matter. There have been other cases as well of people being open to editing and creating an online persona just to make them look better. As mentioned before it is a lot easier to do online than in real life since most of us can read body language and tone of voice to detect lies. Online however you can only see text and that’s it. There is no face to the text, no voice, no body language. The safety net of being in the comfort of your own place, miles away from the person you are talking to also gives you that physical presence of mind as there is a smaller chance of being caught out.

Of course everything is context sensitive so you cannot use it as a cast iron rule that if people go quiet they are trying to fabricate something. If you are friends online and indeed there is a level of trust, most people would go about sending pictures of each other. I’ve had some females send a fake picture which is fair enough – The online space does contain its fair share of dodgy characters much like in real life so there is no harm in safeguarding yourself, as long as you are comfortable with it.

Safety is important, even more so if you actually decide to go and see them in real life after. In which case I would advise on taking a friend along with you and indeed to let someone else know your location and time of visit. We often hear such stores on the internet and they are not totally unfounded so it is always bes to er on the safe side, more so if you are female.

With Second Life/World of Warcraft I have known many people to be addicted to it and indeed I’ve lost friends over it! They become so compulsive towards the game that they often forget that there is a world out there that can be explored, people to meet etc. I know I have become addicted to the online world also however I do like my breaks away from it as you get to see the larger picture rather than to be confined behind a desk on a computer.

Looking at this from a different angle though, for those who are shy but are honest online it does help to build confidence within yourself. Going back to a point made by Chiisuki though it is true how it is just as easy to give away personal information as it is to lie. There are some that are a bit too forthright with information that in normal circumstances would not be released. Things like numbers, addresses, photos and specific information… All of which leads to Social Engineering but we’ll cover that another time!

TaroTard: The internet is a lot colder, I’ve said this before when I am talking to a friend online and I am down it helps, but nowhere near as much as it would if I actually spoke to the person on the phone or face to face.

It lacks that comforting and supportive edge that you get actually speaking to a person. Hence when I am feeling really down, to be honest I don’t usually want to be on the net, I start to feel alone and crave actually talking to somone.
Also I find sometimes that I hide my emotions more online and when I say that, Anger and sadness being the ones I mean. If I’m happy you don’t need to hide it really do you? But it’s easier to because the person can’t hear your voice, if they could they would KNOW you are not happy. But yeah I tend to take a breath leave it and move on and the other person is none the wiser. Mind you recently I’ve been better with that 😛

It’s on TV a lot recently about how just leaving a child in front of a computer all the time is causing all kinds of social problems in later life and I can totally understand where that is coming from.
Being online you can’t show real emotion and you’re not really interacting with a person, the only thing there is the speech. If you know a person then it’s better because obviously you know how the person reacts in reality and can imagine it. But if you are talking to a person you have never met before. It is impossible to imagine them and it is near impossible to honestly understand them, because as has been mentioned above by everyone it is very easy to be someone completely different to yourself online… meep!