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Everybody Lies: Big Data And What The Internet Can Tell Us About Ourselves

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Are you a liar? You bet you are but the real you is emerging through your online activities. What Big Data knows about the real you.

This show originally aired August 14, 2017. 

There are things about which we all lie. We lie about our innermost hopes, fears and desires. We lie to our friends, spouses, doctors, pollsters, even to ourselves. But our truth is being discovered because we willingly reveal it every day through our activities online.

It’s all being tracked and through big data a new picture about us is emerging which contradicts much of what we previously believed about each other.

Seth Stephens-Davidowitz, author of Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are

New York Times op-ed writer Seth Stephens-Davidowitz has studied this and reveals it all in his book, Everybody Lies. He says that data from the internet is like "digital truth serum," revealing how we really behave when no one's watching. Mike Collins talks with him about some of his findings.

Some highlights from the show:

On the events in Charlottesville

“There was a period when we thought we lived in a post-racism society. You could see online, even when people were telling pollsters politically correct truths, like they weren’t racists and didn’t care that Barack Obama was black, online they were telling a different story. They were making racists searches, usually for jokes mocking African-Americans with a shocking frequency. Stormfront is the biggest, most popular hate site in the United States. The demographics are young people, which you also saw at the events in Charlottesville. Neo-Nazis exist and I’ve known this for years because of internet research. Young people were becoming obsessed with neo-Nazis and the clear cause of it was Barack Obama.” 

On young adults age 19 to 21

“It’s a very impressionable group. It’s not a stupid or uneducated group. The most popular interest for Stormfront members is reading. They’re obsessed with philosophers, evolution and they’re political junkies. Many people say they join Stormfront because of a dating experience. Perhaps an African-American dated someone they wanted to date and it created this rage that led them to this material.”

Google reveals the most about the human psyche

“We’re in a habit of lying to make ourselves look better. That carries over to surveys, there’s no incentive to tell the truth. With Google there’s an incentive, you tell the truth, you get information you need. People are lying to surveys saying they aren’t racists. Compare that to the Google searches. It’s so clear there’s a very different truth about society that was being missed by the traditional way of understanding people. ”
“Google trends compare the rates of searches to different parts of the United States or world and when these searches are highest. You can learn interesting patterns. Anxiety has doubled in the last five years. It’s highest in Kentucky, Maine and rural areas. The recent rise in anxiety and panic attacks almost perfectly track rises in searches related to opioids.”


Seth Stephens-Davidowitz - New York Times op-ed contributor, visiting lecturer at The Wharton School, and a former Google data scientist. He is the author of Everybody Lies: Big Data, New Data, and What the Internet Can Tell Us About Who We Really Are

Read an excerpt from Everybody Lies.
"The power in Google data is that people tell the giant search engine things they might not tell anyone else. Google was invented so that people could learn about the world, not so researchers could learn about people, but it turns out the trails we leave as we seek knowledge on the internet are tremendously revealing."

Seth on NPR's Hidden Brain podcast: What Our Google Searches Reveal About Who We Really Are
"I think there's something very comforting about that little white box that people feel very comfortable telling things that they may not tell anybody else about their sexual interests, their health problems, their insecurities. And using this anonymous aggregate data, we can learn a lot more about people than we've really ever known."

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