How to Tell if Someone is Lying Online or in a Text Message

We have all been there. Someone saying something online that sounds incredible and everyone (including ourselves) want to believe it is true. However, how can we be sure that someone is telling the truth online, especially about their own experiences (e.g., an anecdote)?

Technically the proper etiquette for online conversations is to believe whatever someone says, until you have a reasonable doubt about their honesty. Unfortunately, experience has taught me it is always best to take everything someone says into question, and verify everything you are told.

You do not know how many times I have failed to verify something, then later discover the information I believed was wrong all along. That is both embarrassing and aggravating, since I may have spent years believing misinformation that “everyone said was true”, instead of doing my own research on the matter. As the saying goes: “A Lie Can Travel Halfway Around the World Before the Truth Puts On its Shoes”.

Before I continue, let me say this: There is no 100% reliable way of knowing if someone online is telling the truth or a lie when they give a “personal testimony” about a particular topic, but we can come close by using some critical thinking.

With that, here a few things to watch out for when someone gives an anecdote online.

  • Lack of personal pronouns
    • When someone is lying, they tend to distance themselves from their story (unconsciously). They achieve this by omitting personal pronouns (e.g., “I”, “me”, “myself”) from their story. While this is not 100% proof someone is lying, it is still a good sign.
    • Think about it. Why would someone who is supposedly giving their own “personal story” omit themselves from the story? That does not make sense, hence why it makes the story look made up.
  • Stories that sound generic / bland / too convenient
    • Usually when someone is making something up, they give basic information …not detailed information. This is because the human brain is “busy” thinking up a story to tell, not about what words should be used to convey the story realistically. This makes the story come across as fake – which it is – and people who pay attention will be suspicious.
    • Ask the poster for more details. If they take too long to respond, or fail to give a response, that is a sign the story is made up (or at least exaggerated).
    • I notice this frequently when listening to supposedly real-life scary stories on YouTube. There are a few stories that I believe are real, but several stories sound made-up under the guise of being genuine. Some YouTube channels have even started to claim the stories are “based on real-life events”, which means not all the facts are legit to begin with.
  • Does the poster make extraordinary claims in their story?
    • There is a saying: “Extraordinary claims require extraordinary evidence.”
    • Anytime someone makes extraordinary claims, they need to provide extraordinary evidence (detailed evidence) to back up the story. Anyone can make anything up online (e.g., “I won big in the stock market, and now I own a million-dollar mansion.”), but without detailed evidence, I would be careful blindly believing such a story.
    • You must be careful of various media given as evidence for someone’s anecdote. This is not to say that no media can be trusted, but today you must be careful what you choose to believe.
      • Audio files can easily be manipulated with little to no evidence of any tampering.
        • Usually the audio’s waveform is analyzed to detect tampering.
        • The problem is a lot of audio is compressed (e.g. mp3 files). This can cause the waveform to change, making it virtually impossible to know for certain that someone purposely modified an audio file, since anything that appears “abnormal” in the waveform could just be due to the audio compression, not someone tampering with it.
      • Photos can easily be changed to “fit the narrative” via Photoshop. I have personally used Photoshop for over 10 years and know this powerful software can be used to make things appear different than what really happened.
      • Video is harder to fake, but possible thanks to deep faking technology. However, a video does not need to be “deep faked” to be false (or at least misrepresented).
        • For example, someone could show video clips from an old World War II documentary, and claim the footage was taken from a joint operation of American and British spies, recording a German base experimenting with space-alien technology.
        • What does the video really show when researched? Just some German outpost on the lookout for Allied aircraft.
        • See what I mean? People can give you real video footage, with real people in it, but the footage itself is misrepresented to show something other than what was really going on. For most viewers, they may be completely unaware they are being lied to.
  • Multiple inconsistencies
    • Whenever someone gives a story, and there are one or more inconsistencies in the story, this is a good sign the story is not accurate. If something really happened to someone, they would not keep changing the details of the story.
    • It is best to ask the person about the inconsistencies and see what they say. If they get angry, argue, or avoid the question, then you have your answer.
  • The “I did that too” bandwagon effect
    • This is when someone makes an extraordinary claim, and everyone else suddenly makes the same (or similar) claim too. It is like an “epidemic” of extraordinary claims!
      • I saw this happen once on a health forum. Someone made a huge claim, and then several other people started making similar claims (all on the same forum thread).
      • After about a page or two of people making claims, someone finally posted saying he thought everyone was lying and that what they were doing – if true – would have hurt themselves. Like clockwork, virtually everyone stopped making claims after his post.
      • He called their bluff, especially since I do not recall anyone challenging his accusation. I too believe people were looking to boost their egos, and were willing to lie to strangers online to get that ego boost.

Something to keep in mind. People are not talking face to face when using web forums, instant messaging, posting a comment, etc. That fact tends to make people feel more comfortable exaggerating information – or just plain making up information – about themselves or others in their anecdotes. No one is around to verify their information, much less “punish” them for lying.

This happens a whole lot more on the Internet than people realize, especially if the anecdote someone gives strokes their own ego.


Posted in Computers, General, Internet and Servers, Society

How to Spot a Fake Review on Amazon, Google, Walmart, etc.

Many of us read online reviews to help us determine the quality of a product or business. However, not all reviews are honest. Many reviews are intentionally left to sway the customer into buying a product / doing business with a particular company. Other reviews are maliciously left to damage a product’s or business’ reputation. Either way, not good.

Here is a short list of things to watch out for if you are reading an online review of a product or business. Later, I may add to this list if I have the time.

Please note that nothing is fool-proof, and that you may end up believing a review is fake when it is not or vice versa.

  1. Does the reviewer have a history of reviewing other products or businesses? – Does the reviewer’s account have a few other reviews listed, or only 1 or 2. Many times fake reviewers create new accounts for the sole purpose of posting a couple (or so) fake reviews for a particular product or business.
  2. Does the reviewer have reviews “here and there”, or does the reviewer’s account have tons of reviews in a short span of time? – One thing to watch out for is a reviewer with tons of reviews all in a span of weeks. Sometimes the reviewer may review 5-10 products, wait a couple of months, and do another 5-10 products. These people usually have several accounts, and they switch between them when writing reviews. This is obviously done for money and not for the benefit of the customer reading the reviews.
  3. How detailed is the review? – Does the reviewer give specific details in his review, or do they just give generalities like “Good product!” or “Was shipped fast!” or “Beware! Business ripped me off. Went somewhere else.”? Anytime a reviewer does not bother to give details, I would skip that review. A lot of fake reviewers are interested in how many fake reviews they churn out, not about the quality of said fake reviews.
  4. Does the reviewer have a history of all “5-star” reviews? – Even if a reviewer has many reviews spaced out over time (usually a good sign), if most of their reviews are “1-star” or “5-star” reviews, this can be a sign that something is not right. If virtually all the reviews are “5-star” ones, this can be a paid reviewer, or someone who just sees the good in everything (not a bad personality trait, by the way). This can throw off their review, since they may skip over all the “bad” and just mention the good, which does you nor anyone else any good.
  5. Does the reviewer have a history of all “1-star” reviews? – If virtually all the reviews are “1-star” ones, this can also be a paid reviewer, or someone who just sees the bad in everything. This too can throw off their review, since they may skip over all the “good” and just mention the bad, which does you nor anyone else any good either.
  6. Is the reviewer the one who purchased the item or service, or are they writing a review for their “friend”? – Any review that claims to be writing for someone else is automatically suspect in my book. While not all these reviews are fake, I personally stay away from those.
  7. (For a negative review) Has the business replied to the reviewer? – It is always a good idea to read a business’ response to a negative review. If the business has replied with good points about how the review is a fake, you may want to reconsider believing the negative review. Check to see if the business gives details about how the reviewer is lying. Also, check to see if the reviewer ever replies to the business’ response. This back and forth between a business and customer can be helpful in determining who is lying and who is telling the truth.
  8. Did the reviewer even write a review, or did he just leave only a rating? – This is when someone leaves a “1-star”, “3-star”, “5-star”, etc. rating without leaving an actual review. I usually overlook these kinds of reviews, since they really are not reviews to begin with. If someone leaves a “1-star” review with a business without writing anything, my question would obviously be: “Why was your experience a ‘1-star’?”. Ratings with no explanation do nothing to help anyone, since there is no context given. You are just left to guess. These kinds of reviews are frequently seen when searching businesses on Google Maps.
  9. Has the reviewer used the product before? – This one is kind of funny. Some reviewers claim – with a “5-star” rating – that the product “looks good” or “shipped fast” …but they suddenly claim that they have not actually used the product and are “not sure if it works or not”. These reviews – while phony – are still funny.
  10. Has the reviewer hidden their review history? – Hiding your review history is a feature on Amazon  (probably others as well). If a reviewer hides their review history, I would be very careful believing what they say. In my opinion, except for the occasional person who is paranoid, people who do this do not want you to know about the products they reviewed. Why? Maybe because you may realize they are writing several reviews, all at the same time, and that would make them look suspicious?

Here is a real-life example (for #7):

I once saw a local business have someone leave a bad 1-star review, claiming they were overcharging in their estimate and that they were able to get their vehicle repaired at another shop for a lot less cash.

Well, I read the business owner’s reply. He explained in detail how the reviewer was misleading everyone, and how there was virtually no way they could have gotten their vehicle repaired for the amount the reviewer claimed. He also asked the reviewer to provide proof of their claims, since their review was basically slandering his business and himself as well.

The reviewer never replied with anything to prove what they said was true. I suspect the reviewer was intentionally lying, since their review was somewhat vague and they obviously did not want to provide proof. Why not, if you are telling the truth?


Posted in General, Shopping, Society

Logical Fallacies – Red Herring

This logical fallacy is known as a “red herring”. This is when someone diverts attention from the subject at hand to a completely different subject altogether. This tactic is usually used when someone is being asked questions they do not want to answer, and they are hoping that the subject can be changed without you or someone else noticing.

For example, Brian is called by a sales company wanting to market him a website for his business (the sales person’s name is Lloyd). Brian is intrigued, but he has a few questions.

First, Brian asks Lloyd what companies has his business worked for in the past. Lloyd says “many”, then proceeds to tell Brian how quickly they can set him up with a website.

Secondly, Brian asks “What web platform do you use? Is there any proprietary lock-in where I have to pay a monthly web hosting fee, or can I self-host my website after it is completed?” Lloyd then proceeds to say “Do not worry. We will always make sure you have access to your website.” He then starts talking about how Brian could have a new website that all the search engines will place him in the top 10 results.

See what happened? Every time Brian asked a question, Lloyd diverted attention to some other subject. This is a sign you will not like the answers to your questions, and you should find another company to work with.

Summary: “Red herrings” are nothing more than someone’s attempt to change the subject of a conversation, usually due to uncomfortable questions being asked, or due to an unfavorable topic being discussed.


Posted in General, Logical Fallacies, Society

Logical Fallacies – Black and White

This logical fallacy is known as “black and white”. This is when someone suggests only two alternative conclusions are possible for a certain situation. However, several possibilities exist, not just two of them.

For example, Amanda woke up sick with a cold. Her friend Lilly tells her either she slept with the A/C on all night (as she usually does) and caught the cold that way, or she caught the cold from someone at work. While this generally is not a big deal, what Lilly did was technically a logical fallacy.

Amanda could have caught the cold from someone at the store. She also made several trips to the post office delivering packages. She could have caught it from someone there. She also has art class. She could have contracted the cold during one of the lessons she attended. Lilly is aware of all these facts, but she still insists only the two possibilities she mentioned can be true.

Also, what if a doctor did the exact same thing? He only investigates “two possible reasons” why you are sick. However, there are potentially a dozen or more reasons why you may be sick, but he only investigates the “two possible reasons” instead? Unless he has a good reason for ignoring the other possibilities, that would not be very good, would it?

Summary: Saying only two possibilities exist to explain why something happened, when there are many possibilities, is not wise. It is best to give all possible alternative conclusions when trying to figure out an issue to avoid possible trouble.


Posted in General, Logical Fallacies, Society