Noted liar Chris Brain explains how bending the truth on the Internet is a form of freedom not yet visited in organised society.
I lie every day on the Internet.
But, we all do. A huge amount of human contact online is built on lies. In an online world where we are so practiced at controlling how we are seen by different people, it is inevitable that people will sometimes use a lie to hide or present something about themselves.
Most of the time, these lies are inconsequential: sharing a photo of the incredible dinner you made, which omits that you burnt it to a crisp the first time; or high school teachers using pseudonyms to protect their privacy. Of course, this sort of lying happens offline as well, but it is in the online environment where these lies have power to create a dark space in which it is possible to anonymously create and live out any type of relationship or behaviour. Too often we hear stories about the dangers of this space, we get warned about the possibility of any type of malicious predator hiding in the anonymity of a million unknown faces.
But we rarely hear how beneficial it can be to lie online.
By making up a few false details, it is extraordinarily easy to create an anonymous persona. By doing this, we can transform the Internet into an escapism tool, where we can easily and safely face the most confronting parts of ourselves. When we can be and say anything that we want with virtually no possibility of offline consequences, we have freedom to explore our secret desires, confess our heaviest fears and live out idealised fantasies.
This freedom can manifest itself in any number of ways. Examples include exploration of secret or repressed sexualities or kinks, development of platonic and mutually beneficial anonymous friendships, “catfishing” (the creation of a false online persona for some purpose of benefit to the creator), or simply creating a sort of online confessional. Whilst these behaviours can be malicious or benign, they are not inherently so, and are simply tools which people can use.
There is a common paradigm in art, one of using a lie to show a truth, but never before have we as humans had such capability to do this in our relationships with each other. There is something incredibly powerful in creating a safe space to confront difficult truths. Whether this is the closeted man using a false Grindr profile to explore his sexuality, or the lonely student creating an elaborate fantasy life on Instagram in order to attract more online affection, our growing ability to give life to a lie is allowing us to face, or fight, the difficult truths of our life.
This is not to discount the dangers that can come from these lies.
Countless people have been cruelly manipulated, or fallen into seemingly authentic relationships only to discover that the person that they are falling for is not at all who they say. How then, can we reconcile the existence of these lies, and the truths that they reveal about us, into the rest of our online and offline lives? At the crux of this issue is the fact that we are becoming better liars. With the rise of social media allowing us to keep the people we know up to date with the minutiae of our lives, we are learning how to identify and contain, or broadcast, our vulnerabilities and wants. As we become better at this self-management of vulnerability, we need to acknowledge our ability and the importance of creating safe spaces to be vulnerable.
We need to acknowledge that we are liars.