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Relationships in the new era: avoiding false advertising

After a successful turnout last year, the “Behind the Screens” series returned with “A Symposium on Online Dating and Deception.”

“I wanted to talk about the dark side of technology,” said Ebony A. Utley, professor of communication studies and associate director for IIE.

Moderating the discussion, Utley had a priority for the panelists, each of whom come from professional backgrounds, to share their thoughts, stories, struggles and solutions to problems that arise in regard to online dating. At the forefront of the issues brought up were catfishing, fabricating one’s looks and playing on a victim’s emotions.

“We’re really poor at detecting that people are lying to us,” said panelist David M. Markowitz, an assistant professor at the University of Oregon. “We’re skewed in how we can detect lies and detect truth.”

Markowitz’s research largely focuses on how deceptive language can be read. One distancing strategy he said perpetrators use when lying is avoiding possessive pronouns.

“The subtle pronoun drop is really indicative of deception,” he said.

According to some of the other panelists, problems like catfishing can happen in alternative ways. Married individuals might score dates with singles simply to see if they have still have their charm. The “love-test,” according to Utley, happens when a person creates a fake dating profile to test their partner’s fidelity.


From left: Aesha Adams-Roberts, David M. Markowitz, Richard Dowlat and Melissa Jeffries converse with one another after their panel discussion for the Symposium on Online Dating and Deception.

Saad Kazi/Daily Forty-Niner

“Most men will lie about their height because they know most women have a height preference and most women will lie about their weight because they know most men are looking for a particular body type,” said dating coach and relationship expert Aesha AdamsRoberts.

Adams-Roberts works personally with her clients, even having log-in access to their dating profiles. Though she sees these lighter and less serious forms of deception often, she also expressed that some catfishes have more cruel motives.

“They see the world as winners and losers,” Adams-Roberts said. “For them, online dating is their playground, and they go around collecting people.”

Scammers will use tactics like love-bombing, giving their victims every impression that they love them.

Feelings can be real even if that person isn’t real,” Adams-Roberts said. “People buy into the deception even if they can tell something is wrong because it’s really hard to tell if someone [would] intentionally [be] trying to harm you.”

Catfishes might lure users to collect money from them or even murder them. Adams-Roberts shared advice on preventing such tragedies from occurring.

“The number one way your intuition is going to talk to you is through fear,” she said. “Be very afraid; you are dealing with a stranger … sometimes that fear is your intuition asking you to pay attention.”

Richard Dowlat told of reasons why deceivers might want to harm innocent people, comparing the concept of online dating to gambling machines that are designed to keep players addicted.

“There are people out there doing online dating simply for the positive benefit, the hit of serotonin they get when there’s a match or like they get on their profile,” the psychology professor said. “So, in order to maximize the likelihood of receiving these things, they misrepresent themselves and try to appear more attractive than they actually are.”

Melissa Jeffries designed her video dating app, Wingerly, to create more transparency in online interaction. Still in its early stages, the app is growing steadily, especially among women.

“I designed [Wingerly] with women in mind,” Jeffries said. “As women, we really need to have trust and feel safe.”

Jeffries was inspired to create the platform after a misled first date of her own. Having met the man on a standard dating app, she realized that photos and descriptions weren’t enough to experience a real connection.

“Your ability to trust someone, 90% of the time it’s from [the] tone of voice and body language,” she said. “Video is definitely the future.”

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