In talking about representation on the internet last week, I started thinking about trust and digital communities. Can we trust people we meet online? Do people’s social media profiles accurately reflect who they are? A major example of people perhaps over trusting on the internet is in relation to online dating. Everyone has heard about victims of Catfishing, a phenomenon where people who are dating online are aggressively misled by potential partners; a phenomenon made famous by the MTV reality show. This is one example of misrepresentation on the internet that can lead to people distrusting digital communities and online relationships.
Despite extreme examples of misrepresentation on the internet, many researchers have found that people are generally honest on the internet. Psychologist Gwendolyn Seidman has found that the amount of lying and deception that occurs online varies depending on what medium is being used. She argues that some people are more honest on social media than they are in real life and has found that people are more likely to lie about their physical appearance online than anything else. Other studies have found that people are less likely to lie in emails because they can be documented and recorded. The fact that people are often more honest in some spaces on the internet than in others makes it difficult to know when someone is representing themselves truthfully and when they are not. As a result, the amount of trust people have in the internet appropriately varies based on what they are using the internet for.