The Truth is Out There!

30 11 2012

Searching for Facts vs. Fiction - Magnifying Glass

After weeks of searching online for evidence of whether people are more themselves online, I’ve learnt that people do open up and be themselves online BUT only in a safe environment. Online communities, where like-minded people can find each other, are more conducive to this than social media.  Here, a certain level of promoting the positive and concealing the negative goes on.

And what have I discovered about how to search for good, valid, concrete evidence?  I have tried a number of methods and sources.

  • News sites often take one small element of published research and focus a story on it.  That said, they can be a useful source if they quote Doctor X or Professor Y (which they love to do to give the article some validity!)  However, always check out the source material rather than taking the journalist’s interpretation of it!
  • Blogs are a good source of opinion but are only that – one person’s opinion.
  • Forums and online communities are invaluable for finding out first hand what people think and do, but care must be taken to act ethically.
  • Published papers are robust, systematic and peer reviewed, so a good source of information.  However, if subjects are interviewed, ecological validity may be lacking and their answers may not be a true reflection of what they do online.  That was why I quoted the paper I did, because they analysed the actual, ‘live’ activity on forums and communities.


Finally, I’ll leave the last word to Bart Simpson.  This advice can help us whether we’re undertaking an online search for information, or interpreting what other people are presenting as the truth.

Till next time!

Doctor de Bee


What the Papers Say

24 11 2012

It was time to review some scholarly research.  Published articles are researched using a systematic method, peer-reviewed and (usually) arrived at without bias, as the results must stand up for themselves and not be manipulated to support a hypothesis.

Firstly, I searched the term “disclosure online” via Google Scholar which returned these results.  Many of the articles were not appropriate (concerned with disclosing personal information online, such as age, income, etc.) but the first was highly relevant.  Unfortunately, the full text of the paper was not available (as were many of the results).  Therefore, I decided to search for it via the UHI library instead, and found it via EBSCO.

Broadly, there were similarities between this research and what I had done with   However, whereas I had simply looked through the threads and ‘cherry picked’ the information that supported my theory, the writers of this paper had a systematic method :

gathering results from three discussion and three support forums

ensuring there were equal results from both genders

recording total number of words and first-voice words as dependent variables

using trained, expert judges to blindly rate each message



Encouragingly, their results were not dissimilar to what I had found!  Namely that, comparing support forums to discussion forums, self-disclosure was much higher, messages were more open personal, and reciprocity of self-disclosure was evident.

Interestingly, when I did a search for “disclosure online” via EBSCO, this paper was not returned in the results.  The advantage of using Google Scholar was that it listed alternative papers which this research had been cited in, which provided a useful source for further reading.



Barak, A., & Gluck-Ofri, O. (2007). Degree and Reciprocity of Self-Disclosure in Online Forums. Cyberpsychology & Behavior, 10(3), 407-417. [19/11/2012]

From the Horse’s Mouth

17 11 2012

So far, I’ve Googled a variety of search terms and found some interesting stuff on telling the truth online.  Unfortunately, I’ve also discovered a lot which wasn’t relevant.  Newspapers and news sites tend to concentrate on the sensational stories which, inevitably, concern deception and lying online, which isn’t what interests me.  Most of what I reported so far originates from blogs and third parties; while this information has some validity, it is often only someone’s opinion or their interpretation of the facts.


I thought that the next step should be to find some evidence from ‘the horse’s mouth’ – but how to go about this?  I returned to one of the areas which first sparked my interest and tried to find out more on the Brigadoon Asperger’s/Autism community.

Unfortunately, the online forum was not open and I didn’t want to register for the Second Life ‘island’ as I felt it would be unethical to enter a world intended for a certain community for research purposes.

So I took a different approach, and looked at an online community for those with mental health issues.  Luckily for me, someone had already started a thread asking “What made you take the plunge to join [this forum]?” which gave me the feedback I was looking for!

  • I can post my inner most feelings
  • You can … be yourself on here
  • I needed somewhere with ‘real’ people, that I could relate to – rather than my status flashing, oh-so perfect plastic ‘friends’ on Facebook
  • I could be more honest and open about who I am
  • I could be the ‘real Sarah’ who can say it exactly how it is, warts and all
  • I thought, well, I AM mad, might as well admit it …


Lester, J (1993) Brigadoon [online] Available at [15/11/2012]

Radish Online Limited (2003) Mental Health Forum [online] Available at <> [15/11/2012]

Behind the Mask

10 11 2012

“Man is least himself when he talks in his own person.
Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.”

– Oscar Wilde

Last week I asked, “does the virtual world allow people to be even more true to themselves” and I found some thought-provoking and insightful information when I searched for “are people more honest and open online”.

Oscar Wilde’s words are no less relevant today.  The mask in question now is more likely to be an avatar or username, behind which the online community can reveal their true feelings.  In fact, the ‘Rational Optimist’ points out that perhaps this is the modern version of the grill or curtain which separates confessors from the Catholic priest?

Matt Rhodes of highlights the differences between social networks and online communities.


We don’t tell the truth in social networks. This isn’t to say that we lie, or mislead people, it’s just that we are selective about what we say or reveal about ourselves… Social networks are a ‘me’ space… we present a version of ourselves that we want people to see. 



I love my computer

[Online communities] are not spaces focused on the profile and connections, rather on a shared and group effort, aim or ambition… The desire to be heard doesn’t lead to ‘exaggeration’ on personal profiles, rather online communities provide a multitude of opportunities for our voices to be heard.



Finally, I’m adding a link to a blog where you can witness someone taking ‘baby steps’ to becoming more open online.  Positively Present is, by her own admission, “pretty closed emotionally and physically” but realised that this “definitely stands in the way of my happiness”.  In a later post, she says “this blog has REALLY helped me open up. I say things about myself that I wouldn’t normally say.”


DiPirro D(April 29, 2009) Positively Present : Unlock 10 Ways To Be More Open [online] Available from <> [09/11/2012]

Rhodes, M (January 7 2009) Do we tell the truth in social networks? Does it matter?[online] Available from <> [10/11/2012]

Ridley, M (February 18, 2012) The Rational Optimist : Flaming and soul baring – online honesty [online] Available from  <> [ 10/11/2012]

The Real Me?

4 11 2012

Two things have inspired me to look deeper into online identities.  Recently, I saw a documentary called ‘Talhotblond’, a true story of online deception, attraction, revenge and, ultimately, murder.  I’d recommend that you watch it if you have the opportunity; in the meantime, here’s the trailer.

Secondly, I was intrigued by the findings (Jarrett 2009) that people with autism and Asperger’s syndrome had found a level playing field in virtual realities such as Second Life (SL) to communicate with ‘neurotypical’ people.  Because the flow of communication was slowed down by using text instead of speech, their ‘deficiencies’ were less of a disadvantage.

What about the presentation of the ‘physical self’ online?  I searched for “avatars and reality” and found a project called Alter Egos by Robbie Cooper.  He presented images of online gamers, juxtaposed with their avatars.  One subject who stood out was Jason Rowe. who said :

“Virtual worlds bring people together, everyone is on common ground.  In the real world, people can be uncomfortable around me before they get to know me and realise that, apart from my outer appearance, I’m just like them.  The internet eliminates how you look in real life, so you get to know a person by their mind and personality.  

While you could argue that this is deception and a false representation of the ‘social self’, it would also suggest that there is a freedom to present the inner “personal self’ online, because disabilities are no longer a barrier.

So here is the specific question I’m going to research over the next few weeks – does the virtual world allow people to be even more true to themselves, because it gives them more freedom to disclose their inner feelings and thoughts, or issues they wouldn’t dream of talking to their nearest and dearest about?

Till next time,

Doctor DeBee




Cooper, R., Dibbell, J., & Spaight, T. (2007). Alter ego: avatars and their creators. London, Chris Boot


Cooper, R. Robbie Cooper [online] Available at

<> [02/11/2012]


Jarret,C (2009) ‘Getting a Second Life’. The Psychologist. June [online] Available at <> [01/11/2012]


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