The Liars Of Romance : The Indicator from Planet Money People lie when they're looking for a mate online. Today on the Indicator: the lies we tell online, and how often we tell them.
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The Liars Of Romance

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The Liars Of Romance

The Liars Of Romance

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Darius Rafieyan.



VANEK SMITH: You are a producer here at THE INDICATOR. And you brought us a story recently. And it is a story about a very particular marketplace.

RAFIEYAN: I waded into the world of online dating after being on the sidelines for a long time.


RAFIEYAN: I dipped my toe back in.


RAFIEYAN: And I had a bit of a - a bit of an experience.

VANEK SMITH: A bit of an experience - yes, I've had a few of those.

RAFIEYAN: An experience is one way to put it.


RAFIEYAN: It was a shall we say traumatic experience.


RAFIEYAN: And the more that I thought about it, the more I realized that at the center of it was this - really an economics problem.

VANEK SMITH: Well, sure.


VANEK SMITH: At the center of everything is an economics problem (laughter).

RAFIEYAN: And, I mean, being the person that I am, it's pretty easy for me to find economics at the root of everything.


RAFIEYAN: But specifically the problem that I faced was a problem that economists call asymmetric information.


NATASHA APONTE: As you may or may not know, my name is Natasha. And I have everyone here today to be on a date with me.

RAFIEYAN: This is THE INDICATOR. I'm Darius Rafieyan.

VANEK SMITH: And I'm Stacey Vanek Smith. Today on the show, the problem of asymmetric information and the online dating marketplace. Also, should Darius trust anything a woman says online ever again?

RAFIEYAN: I'm going to say no.

VANEK SMITH: Don't worry, Darius. I brought data.

RAFIEYAN: You know I love data.

VANEK SMITH: I know. I mean, you know.


RAFIEYAN: All right, so should I just tell my story?

VANEK SMITH: Yes, please. Just for a little setup, you were on Tinder, swiping left, swiping right. And you swipe right on this woman named Natasha.

RAFIEYAN: I had struck up a conversation with this nice gal, so we made plans to meet up. And she said, hey, you know, my friend is deejaying at this show in the park. I'll be in the crowd. Just come meet me, and then we'll go get a drink. So, you know, hadn't been on a date in a long time. So like, I got all gussied up. Like, I was so nervous, you know...

VANEK SMITH: Did you have, like, a button-down shirt?

RAFIEYAN: I had a button-down shirt. I wore my nicest shirt.

VANEK SMITH: Oh, that's nice though.

RAFIEYAN: You know...

VANEK SMITH: That's so nice.

RAFIEYAN: And so, you know, like, I get to this event, and there's a crowd and a stage. And I'm sort of looking around at the crowd, and a definite profile seemed to be emerging.

VANEK SMITH: What do you mean?

RAFIEYAN: Like, everyone was sort of, like, young guy, like, beard, all wearing their nicest shirts. And then about 10 minutes in, music cuts out. The girl who I'm supposed to be meeting gets up on stage. And she said, I have a confession to make. All of you people here - and there was probably like 150, 200 people there - are all here because you're supposed to be on a date with me.


APONTE: Dating apps are very difficult. And I said, maybe I can bring everyone here in person and see, do you have what it takes to win a date with me?


RAFIEYAN: So it quickly - it transpired...


RAFIEYAN: ...That this woman, Natasha...


RAFIEYAN: ...Had put this whole mass live Tinder date situation together as part of a sort of publicity stunt. She started listing off all of this deal-breaking criteria.


APONTE: So we're going to start with the elimination. Anyone under 5'10" please leave as well. No beer bellies, no long beards, no bald guys, no khakis, also anyone named Jimmy. I don't enjoy the name Jimmy.

RAFIEYAN: But I will say I think my favorite part of this entire saga...


RAFIEYAN: ...Was one of the videos that one of the bystanders shot ended up on "Good Morning America." And apparently I was sort of captured in the background. And I got a text from my mom...


RAFIEYAN: ...Saying she saw me on "Good Morning America" (laughter).

VANEK SMITH: Darius, I'm so sorry.

RAFIEYAN: I think my mom was angrier at this girl than I was. But anyways, as I was thinking about this experience - and I realized that it is a great example of what economists call an asymmetric information problem. And that basically means that one side of a transaction has better or more complete information than the other side. And, you know, this happens all the time in online dating. You know, I'm looking at a picture or an age or an occupation, and it creates these incentives for people to bend the truth.

VANEK SMITH: Right. I mean, they could be texting you from their killing room or, like, from their wedding. I mean, you just really don't know. It is so easy to lie, which brings us to the question at the center of all of this. Are people lying? So, Darius, I did a little digging for you. And I have two indicators for you. The first one is courtesy of the dating app Bumble.

JESS CARBINO: Hello, my name is Dr. Jess Carbino, and I am the sociologist for Bumble.

VANEK SMITH: Jess studies all kinds of behavior inside of Bumble - what people are looking for, what people say about themselves. And I asked Jess how many people are lying on their profiles.

CARBINO: There are studies that indicate that about 70 percent of individuals misrepresent something in their profile...

VANEK SMITH: That's a lot (laughter).

CARBINO: ...Online. It is a lot.

VANEK SMITH: That is today's first indicator - 70 percent. But, Darius, before you make any grand conclusions, it is not as bad as it sounds.

CARBINO: But the types of things that they're misrepresenting are not things that are related to fundamental identity characteristics. It's something about, you know, their height or their weight.

VANEK SMITH: And in your situation, I'm not even sure that Natasha did lie on her profile. I mean, she could have been very honest about her age and her height and her weight. The lying she was doing in this case really had to do more with the chatting with you that happened after you selected her profile.

RAFIEYAN: Yeah. And I actually still have some of the messages she sent me right here on my phone. Let's see. She says, I'm starting the work on this big annual presentation I have to give. Ugh. And I said, what's the presentation on? Corporate marketing, exclamation point. That's so fake.

VANEK SMITH: Oh. It's like...

RAFIEYAN: No one puts an exclamation point behind corporate marketing. Corporate - I think you're cute and really want to meet you, winky face.


RAFIEYAN: Yeah, heavily riddled with emojis.

VANEK SMITH: So this conversation where this woman was allegedly preparing her corporate marketing presentation - now, this lie was happening in the conversation period of online dating. So that is, Darius, after you had matched with her but before you had met her.

DAVID MARKOWITZ: We call this the discovery phase.

VANEK SMITH: This is David Markowitz. He is a computational social scientist at the University of Oregon. I got - I went deep here for you. And David recently did this big study about the discovery phase of online dating. He paid people to hand over their anonymized dating chats, their conversations, and to rate the honesty or dishonesty of what they'd said in those conversations.

But you actually calculated the number of messages that included deception.


VANEK SMITH: And what did you find?

MARKOWITZ: What we found is that lying is at a lower rate than you might expect. About 7 percent of all the message that - messages that were submitted to our database contained some form of lie, either a small lie...

VANEK SMITH: So 93 percent of the communication between two daters who haven't met was, like, honest.

MARKOWITZ: Yeah, they reported being honest.

VANEK SMITH: There you go, Darius. That is my second indicator for you. I'm going to give this silver lining indicator. Ninety-three percent of online communication on a dating app seems to be honest.

RAFIEYAN: I mean, that's somewhat reassuring.


RAFIEYAN: It doesn't seem to square with my experience...


RAFIEYAN: ...That I've had thus far.

VANEK SMITH: Well, there is the 7 percent. And, Darius, Dave says the rate at which we lie in online dating communication is about the same rate we lie in all the other contexts like other online communication and even in real life. We tend to lie about 5 to 10 percent of the time, which means 90 to 95 percent of the time we're telling the truth. OK, Darius, so you've got the two indicators. What do you think? Can you - will you - are you going to venture back into this marketplace?

RAFIEYAN: If I'm being perfectly honest, I already have ventured back into it...

VANEK SMITH: Oh, I'm glad to hear.

RAFIEYAN: ...Because...

VANEK SMITH: I'm glad to hear.

RAFIEYAN: ...As much as this was a traumatic experience, it's still not as traumatic as talking to a stranger in a bar.


RAFIEYAN: Today's episode was edited by Paddy Hirsch and produced by Constanza Gallardo. And if you are interested in learning more about the science of lies, check out our Instagram, @planetmoney, where I will bring you a pro tip courtesy of Professor Markowitz on how to tell when people are being dishonest with you.


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