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How’s Your Digital Deception Detector?

Allen Slade

Catfishing entices a dupe to befriend a fake person, to the victim’s embarrassment. Notre Dame football player Manti Te’o used his girlfriend’s death to propel his team to the national championship game. When this girlfriend turned out to not exist, he claims to have been duped.

Was Manti Te’o a victim, part of the scheme or a little of both? How could credible sports reporters feature this emotional story without checking their facts?

Leaders must be masters of the digital divide that catfishing exploits.

The PC generation sees technology as a tool. They master new technology as necessary to get things done. They tend not to be early advocates of new technology. They would rather not upgrade Windows or switch from email to Facebook unless there is a good reason. They want a tested version of the new technology, with no bugs and a good help function. 

The Net generation integrates technology fully with relationship. They may be early adopters of new technology, but they adopt it for coolness as much as utility. Their choice of media is driven by relationships. They use Facebook (or Twitter or Pinterest or whatever) because many of their friends do. And, their use of a network creates more friends on that network.

One of the differences between these generations is how they avoid deception in digital relationships – the problem of Manti Te’o’s nonexistent girlfriend. The PC gen avoids deception by limiting true relationships to people they have met face-to-face. They might think Manti is a fool for having a girlfriend he never met. The Net gen does not limit friendships to the physical world. Instead, they survive and thrive in the virtual world by developing finely tuned deception detectors. They might think Manti Te’o is a fool because his digital deception detector failed.

The PC gen and the Net gen can be hard to tell apart. They both use smart phones and tablets, Facebook and Twitter, Excel and WordPress. And, a 70-year old can be in the Net gen while her grandson is in the PC gen. Manti may be a Net Gen’er who duped PC Gen sports reporters until things spun out of control. Or he may be a PC gen’er whose use of network technology was naïve.

As a change leader, how can you tell them apart? I ask a single question: “Do you have close personal friends that you have never met face-to-face?”

  • PC gen: “Are you kidding?”
  • Net gen: “Yes”,  with active digital deception detector.
  • Future catfishing victim: “Yes” but lazy or clueless about digital deception.

As a leader, you must navigate the digital divide between the PC generation and the Net generation with agility and authenticity.

If you are of the PC generation, master the new technology and find friends you will never meet face-to-face. Go slowly to avoid being catfished. Don’t propose marriage but do corraborate any funeral notice. (You can practice with me – Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn buttons are at the top of this page.)

If you are of the Net generation, bring the PC generation along by appealing to the utility of the networked world. Help them avoid being catfished. Appreciate and honor their desire for face-to-face contact.

Whichever side of the divide is your native land, mediate the conflicting world views with authenticity. Then, you will be able to get everybody on board with your larger purpose.

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