Quinnipiac Final Paper – ICM501 – Creative Obfuscation
Internet identity, reputation, and deception in the online dating world. Truth and little white lies on the Internet.
Several weeks ago, when participating in class, I used the term creative obfuscation. The idea behind it was (and still is) that people of course bend the truth or cover it up, or they lie by omission. Some of these lies are more egregious than others.
For my final paper, I decided to look at what it all means with reference to internet dating. And boy, was there a lot of fodder! Here are some excerpts.
For many people these days, social media is wrapped with identity, as identity is, in turn, intimately wrapped up with social media. It is often a daily presence in our lives. As Julia Knight and Alexis Weedon discovered, online life and self are increasingly just as important as offline life and self. “In 2008, Vincent Miller’s article in Convergence recognized in our ubiquitous and pervasive media the essential role of phatic communication which forms our connection to the here and now. Social media has become a native habitus for many and is a place to perform our various roles in our multimodal lives, as a professional, a parent, an acquaintance, and a colleague. The current generation has grown up with social media and like the 10-year-old Facebook, Twitter too has become part of some people’s everyday here and now.”
 Phatic communications are generally language for the purposes of social interaction rather than the conveying of information or the making of inquiries, e. g. ‘small talk’.
 Knight and Weedon, Ibid., Page 257.
Unlike offline reputation, online reputation can be categorized and quantified. For sites attempting to preserve and promote civility, but which cannot or will not adopt a real-names policy like Facebook’s, reputation scores can sometimes alert other users to an individual’s tendency to be either helpful or abusive. As AS Crane noted in Promoting Civility in Online Discussions: A Study of the Intelligent Conversation Forum, “Moderation in combination with reputation scores have been used successfully on the large technology site Slashdot, according to Lampe and Resnick (2004). Slashdot moderation duties are shared among a group of users, who can assign positive or negative reputation points to posts and to other members. Users who have earned a sufficient reputation rating are allowed to participate in moderation if they wish. Meta-moderators observe the moderators for abuse and can remove bad moderators, or reward good moderators by assigning a higher point value to their votes.” In Slashdot’s case, it would seem that good behavior not only is rewarding in and of itself, but it also provides a reward in the form of being granted the ability to police others’ behavior.
 AS Crane, 2012, Promoting Civility in Online Discussions: A Study of the Intelligent Conversation Forum, rave.ohiolink.edu, Page 17
For those who bend the truth on Facebook and other social media websites, some of the consequences are unexpected ones. For example, a ten-year-old child who claims to be thirteen will, in five years, be considered eighteen on the social networking site. This will alter her privacy settings automatically, allowing images to be seen by everyone, including pedophiles.
 Olsen, Tyler, 22 April 2013, Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire: An Explanation of Deception, Professor Combs English 1010-21
Although it is fairly easy to bend the truth when composing an online dating profile, an in-person meeting will expose the lie to all, and the liar will lose social capital and likely never make it to a second date. More problematic is when a person’s sincerely developed identity does not jibe with their appearance or their birth characteristics. Differences between online verbiage and offline appearance might not have an intentionally malicious origin, and it is entirely possible for online daters to, through ambiguity or poor word choice, appear deceptive and untrustworthy when they may be anything but.
But regardless of the reason for an untruth, online daters care about their reputations and their online and offline appearances. What others think matters to them. Much of that is directly related to the fact that the object behind the use of an online dating site is to meet; the mission is the date. Setting up the date for failure or the loss of face is not in online daters’ best interests and most of them act accordingly in order to assure success or at least prevent and minimize failure and the loss of social capital.
Personal identity matters in the online world, and it is a heady brew of inborn traits, learned and attained characteristics, and identification, desire, and preference. For the person presenting their identity and showing this admixture to all and sundry, what it means to be them, what they think of as the ‘self’, is what is cobbled together from potentially thousands of measurable and nonquantifiable data points in order to present a full picture of their personality. For the recipients of these messages, the potential dating partners and perhaps even more permanent mates, the choice is whether to read or listen to these many messages and accept all or some of them, even if they conflict with or downright contradict the evidence that the recipient can observe or otherwise gather independently.
You are who you were at birth, who you have become, and who you claim to be, and who you think you are. But that does not mean that anyone has to believe you, accept you, or love you.