Cheating is popular in social media. If there’s a way to get ahead without doing the work, chances are someone’s tried it, blogged about it and maybe even formed a business to promote it.
People cheat to get ahead in social media for the same reasons they cheat to get ahead in anything…
- It natural: Sadly, cheating is astoundingly common throughout humankind. For example, a survey cited in Scientific American Mind revealed that about three fourths of 1,800 students at nine universities admitted to cheating on tests or assignments. From taxes to research studies to Lance Armstrong — people cheat all the time, and they often get away with it.
- It’s easy: Much of social media is a game of smoke and mirrors. It does not necessarily reflect reality. People will willingly accept what they see at face value (as we’ve seen with the rise in Catfishing). For someone who is insecure or uncomfortable with their reality, this feature is a godsend.
- It’s rewarded: Businesses who don’t know any better are more than happy to reward superficial accomplishments in social media like increased scores, followers or content stockpiles. They don’t know that these kind of metrics are ephemeral prizes that can be easily bought, gamed or plagiarized.
- It’s unchecked: Unlike some other industries, in social media there is no ethical code of honor, no formal body that evaluates our behavior and establishes standards for practice and decorum. Unless you excessively thumb your nose in the face of FTC regulations or plagiarize great swaths of intellectual property, there are no repercussions for cheating.
So how do we stop it?
Underneath it all though, cheating is still a bad thing, right?
People use social media to make all sort of important decisions — how to allocate the financial resources at their company, deciding what to buy, whom to vote for, whom to fall in love with, (sigh…poor Manti Te’o) how to live their lives or how to shape their careers.
When the resources and information they use to make those decisions are built upon and maintained using deception and untruths, that’s harmful, right?
- Modifying network systems to recognize teamwork and cooperation
- Penalizing wrongdoers in a consistent manner.
- Setting up robust protections for whistleblowers.
- Improving methods to detect cheating.
These suggestions make sense when you’re talking about things like radar detection signs that remind motorists to drive the speed limit, or the recitation of an honor code before an exam that encourages students to refrain from cheating. But, do they translate to the world of social media?
And, even if they did, do people care enough about cheating in social media to try to fix it?
Because sometimes it seems like deception has become so commonplace in social media that it’s fallen into the same category as magic, energy healing and professional wrestling — there’s an artifice to things that distorts reality, but we choose to accept that reality anyway.
And that’s a bad thing, right?
Because it seems like it should be.