Tuesday, August 29, 2006

"Guilt by association?"

Trial Nears for Ex-Official Tied to Lobbyist

This article (hopefully everyone can access it; it's through New York Times Select) describes the upcoming trial of a former White House budget official, David H. Safavian, who has been charged with lying about his contacts with Jack Abramoff, a Republican lobbyist in the middle of a corruption scandal. The article discusses Safavian's claims that he indeed told the truth to investigators about various trips and assisting Mr. Abramoff in acquiring real estate illegally. However, the Justice Department intends on proving that Mr. Safavian is indeed obstructing justice in this case by reviewing countless emails sent back and forth between the two men. Now, in the article the defendant's lawyer says she believes the Justice Department ''is trying to take Jack Abramoff's state of mind and say that everybody who dealt with him had that same state of mind.'' If this was the case, if we were to analyze it from this perspective that Safavian could be a prototypical-Jack Abramoff, does this constitute a lie or deception? Does this bring into question whether the term and assertion of guilty by association is a different way of analyzing a lie? Because even though the defendant's lawyer is using the altered and associative state of mind as a means of providing unwarranted charges from the prosecution, isn't this a way of also deceiving and telling a lie? By saying that guilt by association is probably false, the defendant lawyer is deceiving herself and attempting to deceive others. She's attempting to stay away from the truth and cover up an alleged lie, whether it is or not, with additional deceiving rhetoric.

Back to my point. Indeed, in the end, analyzing this in a more simplified manner would probably just prove (if it is eventually proved) that the lie was, Nyberg's logical explanation of a lie, indeed a lie because of the statements and intentions of the speaker (that it was a lie, but that there is also an email trail that might be helpful in convicting him). However, I took a different approach above by bringing to the forefront guilt by association which is a more complicated use of deception because it's kind of using the act of lying as an attempt at claimed innocence.

I'm definitely expecting some comments/questions about this post, which was basically me thinking out loud. It's probably not too coherent and might not make much sense; but hopefully I can come up with a more concrete and durable explanation with some suggestions and/or comments (that's if you can access the article).

Guitar Wizard an Anonymous Deceiver?

There is a website called YouTube, which allows people to post videos for others to view and shows about 100 million videos per day. Interestingly, one video has entered the news, hitting the New York Times "most popular" emailed articles of the month. The video everyone is talking about it a guitar ensemble--noted to be one of the most amazing solo performances ever posted--and the discussion regards the guitar genius who remained unknown through 7.35 million views and eight months of suspense. In the video, the Asian guitarist's image is blurry; his faceis obscured by his hat and the video quality is poor. However, his fingers play and his sound fascinates. The video has climbed to YouTube's ten most-viewed videos of all time. The video was called simply "guitar" and the performer referred to himseld as "funtwo" with a placard. On August 27th Jeong-Hyun Lim revealed himself to the public with a feature in the New York Times.
The Times article discusses a few potential reasons the virtuoso chose to remain anonymous. First, along with praise for such incredible mastery come requests for "tabs," which are written music. Once a musician receives complicated tabs, he or she is free to interpret the music and imitate, which is in fact what Lim initally did from another popular performer on YouTube, Jerry C. Another reason for masking was humilty; many musicians are self-deprecating and display anti-showmanship online. The video got some criticism because it was considered to be a fraud, and a slew of imitators claimed to be "funtwo" with their renditions of his masterpiece. It was time to come out.
The public who was enamored with Lim's talnet probably felt like they couldn't direct their awe to a person, and therefore the suggestion of fraud may have entered their minds. Nyberg's definitions of truth--the rational Coherence Theory, the harmoniuous Correspondence Theory, and Pragmatic Theory's need for confirmation--all point towards "funtwo's" deception. Lim self-consciously and deliberatly made the effort to remain veiled and unkown to the public. Since his audience certainly wanted to know who the master was and, I wouldn't consider anonymity a "white" or "justifieable" lie. Basically, the wizard guitar player made himself a secret. Lim's deception (and his imitators' after him) was strategic and ordinary--hiding behind low-quality video, head down, baseball cap on. However, Lim never affected his audience's view of him by remaining anonymous, besides potentially leading them to doubt him and his ability. I don't think it was ever an intention to be called a fraud. I do think Lim intended to be unknown, but I can't determine if that is necessarily intention to deceive from Nyberg.
Vrij's defintion of a lie helps a bit. Jeong-Hyun Lim deliberately, successfully, and without forewarning let his audience not know who he was, an untruth. He made the decision not to show his full or real name, his face wasn't clear from the video post, his awed audience had no idea what to expect, and he chose to remain anonymous for eight months and over seven million views. Vrij continues to help explain Lim's possible reasoning for deceit--"to protect [himself] from embarrassment or disapproval." (Page 8) Granted the piece he played is considered the best guitar solo over recorded, but many musicians including Lim and Jerry C. post their videos in hopes of gaining constructive criticism. Lim was deceptive in his anonymity, not for choosing to protect himself from embarrassment. I would consider his lie subtle, according to Vrij, but only from deduction because he wasn't outright or exaggerating. He definitely seems like an adaptor, "anxious and insecure...motivated to make a positive impression...relatively relaxed when [he was] lying." (Page 16)
Essentially, Lim lied. The now unmasked quitar qizard can finally receive the acclaim and praise he deserves...without deception or doubt. Anonymity was deceptive and even lead to dubious remarks regarding fraud in his video. Jeong-Hyun Lim hit the charts on YouTube and The New York Times website, feats I'm sure he isn't embarrassed about!

Looking for the Lie

What if everyone knew when anyone was lying?

Robin Marantz Henig wrote an article, "Looking for the Lie" for the February 5, 2006 edition of the New York Times Magazine. The article detailed the history and usefulness of the polygraph machine and continued to explore new techniques of brain mapping, using MRI and EEG, to detect lies. The article also explored techniques employed by Paul Eckman in which he focused on “facial micro-expressions” to reveal liars. The article follows from the fact that the government wants to develop a “credibility assessment” machine to help combat terrorism. There are scientists being funded to discover how to employ a confluence of brain mapping techniques and polygraph technology to create an accurate lie detector. The main thrust of the article then is what effect this type of technology might have as it leaks into the public forum. Would this technology be harmful if it were released to quickly and didn’t work properly—what if it did?

Would it be a bad thing if no one could lie? Would it not be a good thing if we could feel confident that we existed in a virtuous, truthful society? Nyberg would argue that it is not even self evident that a truthful society is a virtuous society. His basic thought is that society is too stuck to exploring truth and deceit from the top down rather than from the bottom up. Instead of assuming truth as a virtue and lying as an ill conditioned deviation from that virtue, telling the truth, and a lie, should be seen as tools used to seek communicative ends—their virtue or lack there of is only a function of the context. Following this idea one can see how not only might there be some negative implications tied to a society in which everyone always told the truth, but that there is no obvious reason to even pursue such a society.

Scandal that destroyed faith in the market

The word Enron has become synonymous with deception ever since the news
story about the scandal broke. The chief executive Kenneth Lay insisted
everything was fine when the media started inquiring about his companies’
financial problems, but in actuality he was deceiving the nation, just as
he had been deceiving his stock holders for the last twenty years. The
scandal started with the company trading natural gas futures and in effect
it became an energy "bank", providing guaranteed quantities at set prices.
In the early years, when prices were favorable, it raked in the profits.
Executives soon realized that if it worked for gas, than it could also
work for water, steel, and basically anything else. By inventing new
markets and dominating them before regulators knew what was going on, the
money continued to flood in. The company even earned the title of
"America's most innovative company" from Forbes for six consecutive years.
Kenneth Lay and Jeffrey Skilling deceived their employees, stock holders,
and everyone else involved in the business world. Their deception caused
thousands of people to lose their jobs, their savings, and their
retirement plans. People deceive each other for various reasons.
Sometimes deception is used to benefit the other party, for example
telling a harmless lie to someone in order to protect their feelings. In
Enron’s case, deception was not used to benefit the other party, but
instead it was used to benefit Ken Lay and Jeff Skilling. The deception
did not stop at Lay and Skilling, Enron executives and their families also
benefited to the tune of millions of dollars at the same time as they were
making even more by selling Enron's inflated shares. A person usually
has a motivation for lying; most people do not just lie for the fun of it.
The Enron executives deceived their company out of pure greed. All of
the company scandals that have arisen over the past few years deal with
greed. The desire to make more and more money caused the executives of
large corporations to deceive their employees and their country. Overall
deception can take many different forms, some good, and some bad. In
Enron’s case, the deception that was used caused thousands of people to
lose their jobs and left many families penniless.

White Collar Lies

While exaggerations and even outright lies on resumes are certainly nothing new for corporate America, they seem to be taking an increasing prominent place in major debates around the country. Take, for instance, this Boston Globe article from early August which describes the potential falsification of former Big Dig Safety Official John J. Keaveney’s resume. While not yet confirmed, it appears that he lied about both his schooling and military service in Ireland.

So what’s the big deal? In a 1998 study conducted by Robinson, Sheppard, and Heywood, 83% of participants said that they would lie in order to get a job (Vrij, 8). The subjects even claimed that employers expected them to exaggerated qualities. If job applicants lie so readily, why do we make such a big issue over the few that surface in the media? The problems arise when the subject-in-question’s credibility is at stake for other reasons. In Keaveney’s case, he had anonymously submitted a memo to the Globe which he claimed to have written about the safety and reliability of tunnel ceilings in 1999 -- seven years before the tragic death by ceiling collapse of a motorist this past July. Modern Continental, his employer at the time and the major contractor for that particular tunnel, claims it has no record of the memo and believes it to be fabricated. Here’s where it gets tricky. If the public believes Keaveney and his memo, then Modern Continental is liable for covering up safety issues with the tunnel. If true, the company could be responsible for millions of dollars worth of repairs. However, if the public does not believe Keaveney, then Modern Continental can walk away without accepting any responsibility for July’s death. This is where Keaveney’s credibility comes into play.

By lying on his resume Keaveney was deliberately attempting, without forewarning, to create in others a belief that his credibility is greater than it actually is. However, when the public learned about the resume falsifications his credibility was practically destroyed. It casts doubt on his alleged memo and lends more credibility to Modern Continental’s version of the story. In fact the Boston Globe has publicly written an apology for publishing the memo in the first place. For the most part, Modern Continental is off the hook in the public eye over July’s death.

So who did John Keaveney’s resume lies hurt? If the memo were true, then they hurt the family of the woman who died in July and have put the whole city of Boston at risk. If false, then they have only hurt him. In either case, rather mundane and apparently common lies have cast him to the forefront of the American media and the debate over white collar deception.

Deception on Trial

In this article from the Chicago Tribune, Ameet Sachdez discusses a 2003 landmark trial between Philip Morris and Madison County, Illinois. The plaintiffs claimed that the largest U.S. tobacco company had deceived them into believing that light cigarettes were less damaging to their health. The judge ruled in favor of the plaintiffs and ordered Philip Morris to pay $10.1 billion to compensate the Illinois smokers. This case was the first of its kind. While in most smoking cases plaintiffs claim that their health has been jeopardized from smoking, the plaintiffs in this class-action law suit claimed that by using the word “light” to promote cigarettes, the company had deceived them into believing that light cigarettes were safer. The plaintiffs argued that not only do smokers use the light cigarettes in a compensatory way to receive the usual amount of nicotine, but light cigarettes can be even more harmful.

The judge ruled that the company had indeed employed deception techniques to sell cigarettes, using the word “light” to imply less tar, nicotine, and harm. The judge’s ruling is fairly consistent with both Nyberg and Vrij’s conceptualizations of deception. According to Nyberg, the key to deception is to “present a situation in a way that will encourage some person(s) to develop a confident but mistaken hypothesis, which in some way serves our purpose” (p. 67). Applying this notion to the civil-action lawsuit, Philip Morris used the word “light” on their cigarettes to encourage the smokers of Illinois to conclude that they were safer for the purpose of selling more cigarettes. Furthermore, Nyberg adds that deception is “more like ‘editing the truth’ than denying it altogether” (p. 75). At no time during the trial did Philip Morris deny that light cigarettes generally deliver the same amount of tar and nicotine to their smokers. Instead, the Philip Morris lawyers contended that when “smoked a certain way, light cigarettes do deliver less tar and nicotine.” This is a perfect example of “editing the truth,” one that would certainly fit Nyberg’s notion of deception.

However, if Nyberg had presided over the case, he would have focused more on Philip Morris’ objective in selling the light cigarettes because “without such an intent, there can be no deception” (p. 75). Vrij would likely shift the focus of the trial in the same manner. He defines deception as “a successful or unsuccessful deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers to be untrue” (p. 6). With this notion of deception, whether or not Philip Morris actually led smokers to falsely conclude that light cigarettes were safer is not a primary concern. The question is whether or not Philip Morris actually believes that light cigarettes are generally safer. Although the bulk of the trial did not concern the tobacco company’s intentions, the judge concluded that their “motive was evil and the acts showed a reckless disregard for the consumers’ rights.” This verdict would thus satisfy both Nyberg and Vrij’s notions of deception.

Disturbing Deception and Twisted Morality

It is difficult to dispute the fact that, while our ever-celebrated computer-mediated communication has yielded many positive forms of interaction, it has also provided certain individuals with a convenient way to carry out destructive and illegal behaviors. Pedophiles, for example, wasted little time before taking advantage of the lack of deception cues available to children on the internet. There are innumerable cases of online deception during which adults have lied about their identities to children. The article describes the methods by which pedophiles deceive both children and adults in order to gain more unconstrained access to children. For example, the article describes what Vrij would consider an act of deception when it discusses a man who lies about having a deceased wife in order to become a foster parent (when in fact he had no such wife). This fits nicely into Vrij’s definition of deception as “a successful or unsuccessful deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers to be untrue.” (pg. 6)

However, the classification of pedophilia as deception becomes more complex when the pedophiles discuss consensual pedophilia. When pedophiles convince children to consent to sexual relationships with adults, it is difficult to discern whether or not the pedophiles actually “consider the belief to be untrue.” According to the article, “in [the] online community, pedophiles view themselves as the vanguard of a nascent movement seeking legalization of child pornography and the loosening of age-of-consent laws. They portray themselves as battling for children's rights to engage in sex with adults, a fight they liken to the civil rights movement.” Is it possible for a pedophile to believe that, despite the social norms set forth by society, the behavior in which he/she desires to engage is actually moral? When a pedophile convinces a child that sex between children and adults is moral, is it deception?

Even if it was once impossible for a pedophile to deviate from social convention so much as to truly believe in the morality of pedophilia, the internet has made it much easier. Online sites are described in the article as “support groups” for pedophiles. These people know that what they desire to do is both illegal and, by the moral standards set forth by society, unethical, but relish in the belief (or self-deception) that what they are doing is, in fact, not immoral and should, therefore, not be illegal. For example, a pedophile discussed in the article experienced guilt about his relationship with his 10-year-old daughter, but claimed to be “so happy to find this site. I thought having a sexual attraction to my daughter was bad. I now do not feel guilty or conflicted." Self-Deception is discussed by Nyberg as “necessary to both social stability and to individual mental health.” (pg. 2) If Nyberg intended for “mental health” to include alleviation of anxiety, then this is an example of self-deception. In other words, the internet has not only offered a means by which pedophiles can deceive others, but, now, it has facilitated their deceiving themselves.

Assignment 1

This article explains how some private schools in the UK were raising their test scores by cheating the system. Faculty encouraged select students to enroll in an A-level test (standardized test) independently. However, this was only targeted at the “weaker” students. By enrolling in the test independently, the student’s score had no association with the school. This allowed schools to inflate their average score by “off-loading” students. A similar story of teachers cheating on standardized test is found in Freakonomics. In this case, teachers would change the answers on students’ tests to increase their scores.

At first glance, it appears as though the schools were deceiving both the exam board and the public which examine the results. Following Nyberg’s outline, the schools made a statement that their scores where impressively high, even though they didn’t believe it was an accurate representation of their average, when the exam board had a right to know the true average. Notice that I did not include the public. After reading the comments following the article, it appears the public knows of this tactic and the inflation in the scores. Therefore, the schools are only deceiving the exam board and not the public.

Vrij also takes into account the knowledge of the target. He claims explains a lie as being, “a successful or unsuccessful deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers to be untrue.” (6) Since the public had a forewarning of the score inflation, they are not the subject of a deception. Vrij also goes into detail about different types of lies. This lie to the exam board is simply an exaggeration. The inflation of a score is an example of a fact that is overstated and “exceeds the truth.” (10)

Although it is a long stretch to assume the entire public knew about the score inflation, it would be unfair to say the entire public was deceived. Surprisingly, the students that were asked to take the test independently were not deceived. They were asked to take the test independently because of their academic weakness which is based on prior grade averages. On a happy note, some students that took the test independently scored very well.

Deception in Law- A Collision of Morality

When I think of deception, I first think of people who have done something wrong who lie to others in self defense, while knowing they have committed an immoral act. An example of this kind of self-oriented lie could be a criminal who has robbed a convenience store and might provide an alibi or create a convincing story to protest his or her innocence. While this form of deception is interesting, I find it even more fascinating to examine this type of deception from the reverse angle- when police officers deceive those who they believe to be criminals with their own false evidence.

My article dates back to a 1996 publication of Champion Magazine, part of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.


In this article, Hrones discusses a case handled by a Boston precinct where officers attempted to crack unsolved mysteries by deceiving suspects and following unexplored leads. Hrones said the officers claimed to have incriminating evidence in the form of a photograph of the suspect at the scene as well as his fingerprints on shell casings. Although the suspect had previously denied being at the crime scene, he confessed he was the murderer after he was presented the false information.

According to Nyberg, this was an act of deception because the officers made a statement they wanted the suspect to believe, even though they didn’t believe it themselves. However, the suspect had no reason to believe that the officers were telling a lie. He expected the officers to mean what they said regarding the evidence. (Nyberg, pg 50) Vrij would also describe this case as deception because there was a deliberate act of false communication between at least two that benefited the communicators, (Vrij, 5). Later in the case, the officers admit to using deceptive tactics to obtain a confession from the suspect. The judge upheld the confession in court because the officers “had a good faith belief in his [the suspect’s] guilt.” (Hrones, pg 1)

The officers’ actions and the judge’s ruling exemplify one of the main arguments Nyberg presents in the second chapter. Nyberg states that “there is something about being human that makes us all care deeply about the truth,” (Nyberg pg 30). The judge clearly believed that the truth had been uncovered, which took precedent over the means by which the truth was uncovered. The officers might have been seeking truth as a moral obligation to find the killer in this case- even if they had to go as far as lying to the suspect to obtain it. Of course, this statement assumes that the suspect was indeed the killer, because past studies have shown that individuals may confess to a crime that they did not commit if they undergo a great amount of stress and discomfort during interrogation. This topic was not addressed in the article.

When discussing matters of truth and deception, ethical issues tend to be unavoidable, and deception has been presented as both moral and immoral. In Nyberg, examples are listed of cases where deception was rewarded as a way of protecting friends and saving lives to counteract the idea that we may automatically think lying is bad. In this case, arguments could be made from both sides that the conduct of the officers was either moral or immoral.

A question we may ask from this case is where to draw the line. Is it acceptable to use dishonest means to obtain the truth, even in the legal system? Although there may be better attempts to protect alleged criminals today, deception undoubtedly continues to play a role in our legal system for both prosecution and defense.

Monday, August 28, 2006

Assignment 1 - Liar Liar Pants on Fire

New York Times Article (link)

The Associated Press reported a story, yesterday, on Greg Anderson being held in contempt of court and being ordered to 16 months in jail. Anderson is the former trainer of Barry Bonds and Gary Sheffield, and according to the book Game of Shadows, knowingly sold the pair illegal/banned, performance-enhancing drugs. The report goes on to explain that both Bonds and Sheffield denied under oath that they knowingly took these drugs – and that they thought the drugs were legal – but Shadows goes into great detail about how their testimonies and interviews are inaccurate or untrue (and that they really did know what they were taking and the ramifications of doing so).
According to Vrij, deception is "a successful or unsuccessful deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers untrue.” Assuming the overwhelming evidence against the players’ testimony and media responses in Shadows is true (and temporarily ignoring Nyberg’s discussion of truth), Bonds and Sheffield have clearly lied.
Vrij believes that deception "is part of social interaction” and that it is hard to detect liars because (1) we are untrained/uneducated in doing so, (2) not motivated to catch liars and (3) some people are very good liars. Only the third point seems to apply in this case. Interestingly, both players have proved for years that they are very good at speaking their minds, regardless of how (un)true or arrogant they sound. What’s more, neither has ever shown much affinity for the news media, treating reporters and questions like distant, irrelevant people. So how could they lie in this situation? Perhaps the court/mass-media is viewed by the pair as a "distant group of people”, which according to Vrij’s (and others’) studies, means they would be more likely to lie in these interactions. Motivationally-speaking, it would seem the pair has numerous reasons to choose to lie: it would have a (1) positive impact on baseball, allow them to (2) obtain an advantage in the eyes of the baseball Hall of Fame Selection Committee, and (3) avoid punishment (for cheating). The pair used outright (to the media: "I never took performance enhancing drugs”) and subtle (court: "I never knowingly took steroids”).
However, they have been able to lie in quite a complex situation – with federal officials, congressmen, lawyers, reporters and other athletes all critiquing different aspects of their case – and the consequences being very severe (prison, banishment from baseball, eternal ridicule) which makes their self-oriented lies very impressive.

Digital Deception

Link to CNN article:

Digital Deception

Deception in the Sky

Deceit and airline travel have combined in the past to ignite some of the most horrific tragedies human beings have ever experienced. These disturbing and tragic moments in history have resulted in extremely strict regulations regarding potentially dangerous items brought onto aircrafts. With the list of airplane contraband constantly growing, it is sometimes difficult to know exactly what one can and cannot bring onto a plane; however, there is no question that any items related to or containing explosive materials are forbidden. It is because of this policy that the case of Howard McFarland Fish is a clear example of deceit. Mr. Fish is a twenty-one year old college student, who attempted to bring dynamite and other bomb-making materials onto a plane from Buenos Aires, Argentina, bound for Houston, Texas.

According to the definition of deception postulated by Aldert Vrij in Detecting Lies and Deceit, Mr. Fish’s act of bringing explosives onto an aircraft is an unmistakable example of deception. Vrij labels deception as “a successful or unsuccessful deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers to be untrue” (p. 6). When he attempted to carry dynamite and other explosive materials onto the plane, Mr. Fish tried to cultivate a belief in airport security that he did not possess the prohibited materials. Of course, one has to make the assumption that Mr. Fish did in fact know that bringing dynamite onto a plane is prohibited. In this case, the man practicing the deceit is old enough to know common-sense federal regulations, and additionally, he is currently attending Lafayette College in Pennsylvania, so it is apparent that he is educated. Since Mr. Fish knew that his transportation of explosives was illegal, he attempted to convince airport officials that he did not have any in his possession. Fortunately, security devices and bomb-sniffing dogs were able to reveal his deceitful act, and Fish was taken into custody by customs agents.

Vrij also believes that deception must involve at least two people and excludes self-deception from his research and analysis. This case is not an example of self-deception, as Fish admitted to knowing that he was in control of dynamite, and he claimed to have purchased it as a souvenir in Bolivia.

Additionally, Vrij makes a distinction between outright lies, exaggerations, and subtle lies. The situation at hand represents an outright lie; a lie in which the information conveyed is completely different or contradictory to the truth (p. 10). Mr. Fish knew it was prohibited to bring explosive materials on board with him; yet, he still endeavored to convince security guards and bomb-sniffing dogs that he did not possess the illegal items. Fish’s conscious effort to conceal his prohibited materials represents an attempt to deceive. Luckily, his attempt was unsuccessful, and ultimately no one was hurt as a result of his deceitful act.

Landis Rekindles Attack on Doping Accusations

Last month, 30-year-old Floyd Landis became the third American to win the Tour de France; however, was soon after accused of cheating by means of performance-enhancing drugs. Recently, on ABC’s “Good Morning America,” he denied his usage of the drugs, despite his urine sample testing positive for a high ratio of testosterone. Furthermore, his lawyers have offered alternative explanations such as alcohol consumption the night before competition, thyroid medication, dehydration, etc. Suspiciously, he later backed away from these possible excuses, saying he felt forced into quickly coming up with answers for those who might assume he was guilty. Nonetheless, Landis continues to stand by his plea of innocence and even attacks the validity of the testing.
Vrij’s defines deception as “a successful or unsuccessful deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers to be untrue.” If in fact Landis used performance enhancing drugs, this would clearly classify as an unsuccessful attempt. Moreover, there are several points of deception encountered in this situation: using the drugs, claiming that he didn’t, and suggesting alternative explanations.
Using the drugs in the first place technically isn’t a lie, but it’s certainly not telling the truth! Vrij would consider a “lie” like this to be motivated by either longing to make a good impression or simply obtaining an advantage, in this case athletic. Landis’s second lie is what Vrij would call an outright lie and it also fits the description of Nyberg’s “four parts to a lie” theory. A statement was spoken; he wanted everyone to believe it, even though he knew it not to be true, and lastly the public, not to mention the other cyclists definitely have a right to know. The motivation of this lie was mostly likely to avoid punishment and shame such as being stripped of the title as well as being barred from the sport for a period of time. Interestingly, although it is said to be harder to lie when there is evidence against you, it seems that Landis continues to do so. Thus, Vrij might consider Landis a manipulator in that he persists when challenged to tell the truth.
The last potential lie posed not by Landis, but by his lawyers is his excuses. It’s entirely possible that he did indeed drink the previous night or that he does take thyroid medication, but this could just be a different type of lie. Subtle lies are designed to be truthful, but with the intent of misleading, more or less “editing the truth.” Nyberg, on the other hand, might describe this type of deception as “hiding” by disguising the evidence.
The motives behind these lies further differentiate them. The first two lies are self-oriented, that is, they are designed to make the liar himself appear better whereas the lawyers’ lie is other-oriented. Landis’s case was referred to the United States Anti-Doping Agency, but the results on whether to charge him or not wont be decided for another month. The consequences of these lies in context to the event are unfortunately not in Landis’s favor.

Link to the New York Times Article: http://www.nytimes.com/2006/08/08/sports/othersports/08landis.html?ei=5070&en=97c7eb28ab9db357&ex=1156910400&adxnnl=1&adxnnlx=1156792214-quD4DteMxgcGSV5pk5mieQ

Assignment 1 - Deception Example

Recently, John Mark Karr unexpectedly confessed to being the killer of JonBenet Ramsay, a young girl who was murdered ten years ago. The public was shocked to hear the news, the confession of the murderer, of this unresolved case. Today, however, the charges were dropped, and it was determined by the District Attorney that Karr was not actually the girl’s murderer – he had deceived everyone involved.

In the last few days, Karr repeatedly stated that he was guilty. He “told an international audience that he was present when Ramsay, a 6-year-old beauty pageant queen, was killed a decade ago.” He also “claimed to have killed Ramsey during sex.” We have now found out that he was actually being deceptive. His family stated that Karr was in fact with them during this time period, and the courts showed that his DNA did not match the DNA recovered at the crime scene.

Although it seems obvious at first, it isn’t immediately clear if Karr’s stories should be considered deception based on Vrij and Nyberg’s descriptions. Vrij describes deception as “a successful or unsuccessful deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers to be untrue.” (pg. 6) Karr’s stories were definitely an unsuccessful attempt to create this false belief, but we can not know for certain what Karr himself believes to be the truth. Karr may have created a false memory or illusion about the past, and may have believe that what he was saying was in fact the truth – according to Vrij, this would not be deception (this could have been self-deception, which Vrij does not discuss, or some sort of false report). But if he was aware of the truth, then this would have been deception. We can not determine this without knowing what Karr himself actually believed to be truth.

Nyberg does not give a straightforward definition of deception, but we run into the same problem with his description of deception. His statements are what Nyberg calls straightforward lying, but he also requires an “intention to deceive” (pg. 75). We can’t be certain if Karr intended to deceive the public, or if he himself actually believed his falsehoods. Although we can’t determine if Karr was being deceptive, both authors would agree that Karr was certainly lying – saying that something is true when it is not true.

Link to LA Times article

Defeat ...or Deceit?

This article discusses the 2006 Tour de France controversy. Floyd Landis, the supposed winner of the tour was accused of using performance enhancing drugs which enabled him to win the race. Landis denies all accusations and blames the high levels of synthetic testosterone in his urine to be a result of “the whiskey and beer he drank the night before, the thyroid medicine he was taking, dehydration, a naturally high testosterone and a combination of those” (Macur). Landis’ credibility was discredited when he denied this statement, claiming he felt pressured to defend himself from such accusations.
Because the test results reveal high levels of synthetic testosterone in Landis’ urine, he has been faced with several consequences. First and foremost, he is no longer considered the winner of the tour. In addition, his case has been referred to the United States Anti-Doping Agency. The agency will make the decision whether or not Landis will be charged with a Doping Offense.
The test results seem to prove that Landis deceived the public in a variety of ways. Nyberg asserts “Deception is the shrewd and sober art of ‘showing and hiding’ which is meant to control what is and is not perceived, assumed or understood.” According to this definition, Landis did deceive the public in his actions and his statements. Before Landis entered the race, he made a promise to the International Cycling Union that he would not use any type of drugs that would enhance his performance during the race. When Landis won the race, he did not straightforwardly lie. Instead he hid information that would have proved him guilty of deceit. Perhaps Landis’ lie best fits into the “disguise” category. The definition of disguise is “to become unrecognizable by adding to or modifying your characteristics.” Landis realized it was impossible to win the race at 11th place; therefore, he modified his ability and strength by taking illegal performance enhancement drugs.
According to Vrij, there are also different types of lies. Presently, it seems as though Landis told an outright lie, which are “total falsehoods – lies in which the information conveyed is completely different or contradictory to the truth.” Landis told the public that high levels of testosterone were a result of several other factors. When this explanation was rejected, Landis retracted these statements. Therefore he admitted to outright lying to the public when asked to validate these findings.
It is interesting to note that there have been many cases of performance enhancement drugs in recent history. Baseball players like Barry Bonds have also been accused of using enhancement drugs to increase their abilities. In my personal opinion, I think it is extremely unfortunate sports heroes, such as Floyd Landis, are admired for their deceptive abilities.

Sudan Charges Tribune Ace with Writing 'False News'

Digital Deception-Week 1 Post

On August 6, Pulitzer Prize-winning foreign correspondent for the Chicago Tribune, Paul Salopek, was detained on charges of espionage and reporting “false” news. He faces the risk of two years in jail, in Sudan, if found guilty. As the LA Times reports, Salopek’s story is just “one more case in an international trend of charges against journalists.” I found these articles to be a great illustration that although it is the journalist’s job to report the news as they see it happening, conflicting ideologies in foreign nations bring potentially dangerous challenges to them.
According to Salopek, he was simply reporting his observations. However, the Sudan government sensed he had a motive. Therefore the question arises, was Salopek being deceptive? I will apply Nyberg and Vrij’s definitions of deception and try to formulate some sort of conclusion and/or justification.
Let us assume, for the sake of this question, that whatever Salopek was reporting on, reflected poorly upon the government. Secondly, this government did not want its members of society to see this story in the light Salopek was casting it in.
Consider David Nyberg’s stance, “that lying means making a statement you want somebody to believe, even though you don’t believe it yourself, when the other person has a right to expect you mean what you say, (pg. 50).” According to this definition Salopek is not lying. In fact in his reporting Salopek is 100% sure that what he is reporting is what he sees happening in this foreign country. He is not getting the story from some other source. He is the primary source, and can attest to his story. Since he believes his story, and would accept it himself as truth, he is according to Nyberg, not lying.
In the same respect, Vrij’s definition of deception, “a successful or unsuccessful deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers to be untrue,” (pg 6) remains in accordance with the idea that Salopek is not being deceptive. He is strictly doing his job, reporting what it is that he sees and personally believes and dispersing this primary information to the masses.
Lastly, I wish to make a point of justification. In fact I chose these articles because I feel this is such a key point when it comes to deciding what is looked at as deception and what is not. Although Salopek may not be fabricating a story or outright lying, it is important that we also consider Nyberg’s statement, “We all learn morality in some kind of community, somewhere, and most often what we understand as “the morally right thing to do is what that community has taught us to understand” (pg 56). Here Nyberg has pointed out that we all do not see the world in the same way.
As far as these government agents are concerned, the reality Salopek was illustrating was false. His reporting was not accurately describing the way they see their own reality. His view and their society’s view (whether forced or not) are conflicting. Therefore this brings up the valid point that in order to distinguish a liar/deceiver from a truth teller it is very important to consider the source of the message as well as the critical audience.
This is a crucial point that we need to remember when we are analyzing different cultures. When a journalist with American/Western cultural ideals reports on issues or the reality they are seeing in Sudan, even if this individual has no other motive other than to report their observations, their work will look slanted to that government. We assume a set of freedoms here in America that many other foreign citizens do not. Some situations which we may find to be completely unacceptable may be openly accepted in another country. Thus if these government officials see a foreign reporter framing a story in a negative fashion, when this issue has had a long lasting history in their country, and is not bewildering to their people, it could be looked at as false, deceptive, and misleading.

Link to the Los Angeles Times Article: http://www.latimes.com/news/nationworld/nation/chi-060826salopek,0,6941372.story?coll=la-home-headlines

Link to the CNN News briefing:

Deception... at Cornell

Weill '55 Implicated In Nursery School Admissions Scandal
Cornell Daily Sun (9 Feb. 2003)

With so many Daily Sun staff in the class (I count at least four), I thought it might be appropriate to comment on an article from the Sun's own archives.

This 2003 article by Gautham Nagesh '05 discusses a scandal involving Citigroup CEO and chairman Sandy Weill '55 (one of the "100 Most Notable Cornellians"). To summarize, Citigroup analyst Jack Grubman was accused of raising the rating of AT&T stock in exchange for Weill's help in getting Grubman's two daughters admission to a Manhattan nursing school.

Deception took place in a variety of ways here. First, if Grubman truly raised the stock rating without basing it on the stock's own merit, he was certainly engaging in the most basic form of deception: contributing to causing someone to acquire a false belief. This is Nyberg's first of eight possible methods of deception (p. 74). This blatant falsehood has the four requisite parts of a lie: the statement (the raised rating of AT&T's stock), the belief in the mind of the statement-maker (AT&T's stock rating should not be raised at this time), an intention in the mind of the statement-maker (others should think AT&T's stock rating is higher), and the character and rights of the person addressed (as a noted stock analyst, Grubman is trusted by investors).

A second deception in the article comes from Grubman's defense. He claims that he raised AT&T's stock rating honestly, and that the actual lie was when he told Weill that he raised the rating as a favor. The lie by Grubman here was in order to impress Weill with his influence. By Vrij's definitions, this changes Grubman's deception from a lie to obtain advantage (dishonestly raising the stock rating for Weill's help) to a lie to make a positive impression on others (convince Weill that Grubman has influence). From one point of view, the two lies differ significantly. The first lie can be seen as an other-oriented lie; Grubman was lying in order to benefit his daughters (although it can be argued that this was merely to benefit him in the long-run). The second lie is definitely self-oriented lie, told with the intention of benefiting the deceiver.

It's interesting to note that the self-oriented lie is here seen as less dishonest, or more forgiveable, than the other-oriented lie. This is likely due to the magnitude of the deception. In one case, the lie is about the rating of an important stock, a lie that will influence many, many people. In the other case, the lie is only to one person, and becomes a rather unimportant lie to puff up one's importance in the eyes of others.

Fortunately for Cornellians, Weill seems to have survived Citigroup's scandals successfully. He was ranked as the 562nd wealthiest person in the world by Forbes Magazine in 2006.

Assignment 1

Digital Deception

Ever ‘Googled’ something thinking it would stay between you and your computer? Last year we found out that the Department of Justice didn’t want it to stay that way when they subpoenaed the search records of millions of Google’s users. Perhaps even scarier than that is the story attached, about the time earlier this month when AOL accidentally released search records of nearly 600,000 of its users.

Online search engines have engaged in a certain amount of deception. According to Nyberg, deception is the art of showing and hiding. Within the category of hiding, the behavior of these companies would fall under the subcategory of disguise: from all outward appearances, Google and others like it make searches appear to be both completely anonymous and transient. But given that a New York Times reporter was able to take the search information released by AOL and find the individual attached to them, 62-year-old Thelma Arnold from Lilburn, GA, this is clearly not the case.

Vrij’s definition would also support the conclusion that this is deception. According to Vrij, deception is “a deliberate attempt, without forewarning, to create in another a belief which the communicator considers to be untrue.” While it would difficult to get inside the heads of the makers of these products and see if they had intentionally tried to deceive the public, there is no disclaimer before a search is conducted saying, “this search will be monitored for market research and national security purposes.”

Search engines hide their monitoring practices without any forewarning to the user. By both Vrij and Nyberg’s definitions, theirs would be deceptive actions.

Sunday, August 27, 2006

Your first assignment

Hi all,

Good luck with your first post. This posting is primarily about practicing posting and making sure that the blog is working for you, as well as to learn how to include links in your post.

Remember that we prefer everyone to use their own name when posting, but if you'd like to use a psuedonym you can. Just let us know.

Alex has already posted. Nice job getting it up early. As Alex has done, briefly summarize your news story on deception and discuss the deception (or non-deception) in terms of Nyberg and/or Vrij's conceptualizations of deception. The main purpose here is to prepare yourselves for our discussion on Tuesday and Thursday: what is deception, what is truth?

Lastly, we're working on getting the BlackBoard site up and running. We'll have it ready soon. From there you will be able to get the weekly readings.

See you soon,

Saturday, August 26, 2006


Comm 445--welcome to your new blog on digital deception. I am glad to see that so many of you have already signed up as contributors, and that assignments have already started to come in! Keep up the good work.

This blog is meant to act as a venue for intellectual exchanges on the topics we are discussing in class. While it is mandatory that you post your assignments here, please feel free to contribute any thoughts, ideas, articles or links that you find relevant and that you'd like to share with the group. Also, feel free to comment on each others' posts, and to ask questions of me, Prof. Hancock, or each other.

I am planning on installing a sitemeter on the blog, so we can all see how many hits we're getting, and who we're getting them from. I hope you're excited about putting your thoughts out there for anybody to read. In light of that, let's make this blog a rich and insightful resource for all those interested in deception and technology.

On a less glamorous note, please let me know if you have any trouble posting on this blog, or any questions about the assignment. Good luck!


Assignment 1

Link To Article

This article is about how a contractor used deception to dupe people into buying hurricane shutters that were not near as nice as they appeared. The contractor was charged with theft by deception. He was selling them in Mobile, Alabama and was accused of installing inferior hurricane shutters by using Velcro to hold them up. In a case with one client, the shutters fell off of the home before the contractor even left the driveway. The contractor also used logos of several companies that he did not represent in his print advertisements. The man was charged with theft by deception, but does this count as deception?

I believe this is deception. Nyberg says that deception requires strategic skills and that it involves both showing and hiding; the contractor strategically used showing and hiding in order to increase the appeal of the properties that he was trying to sell. He was showing the hurricane shutters (which were essentially counterfeit by most standards) and he was hiding the fact that they were only being held up by Velcro (he was using a disguise). According to Nyberg, “Deception is editing the truth.” This is exactly what the contractor was doing on purpose; deception can’t occur without intention.

Vrij would also agree that this was deception because, in his book, he says that deception is “false communication that benefits the communicator.” In this case, the communicator was the contractor who benefited from the false communication by being able to sell shutters to people who assumed they were going to be a quality product. Vrij also agrees with Nyberg that deception must be deliberate and intentional.

By the standards laid out by both Nyberg and Vrij, I would have to say this is a case of deception. The contractor was undoubtedly editing the truth to his own benefit and did so intentionally and deliberately. He used disguises as well as counterfeit in order to get what he wanted; he disguised himself (by saying he represented companies that he didn’t) and disguised the shutters by making them seem like they were applied appropriately when they really weren’t.