Pamela Meyer: How to spot a liar


Pamela Meyer is author of “Liespotting”, which pulls together research on deception from a number of sources.


Everyone is a liar, but the goal to spotting liars isn’t to trick them or play ‘gotcha’, but to understand the truth.

Truth #1 Lying is a cooperative act – it needs the hearer to believe.

Truth #2 We are against lying… and covertly for it

Lying can manifest as corporate fraud, which costs nearly a trillion dollars a year in the US, or it can betray national secrets. In many cases lying defines our social interations – to protect ourselves, to protect others, to portray ourselves differently to what we are, to lie to a partner, we lie to a stranger 3 times within 10 minutes of meeting them. The thought of this makes people recoil in horror. However, the more intelligent the species, the more they rely on deception. Children grow up with lies and by the time they are in the workforce they are living in a ‘post-truth society’.

Trained Lie spotters get to the truth 90% of the time, while untrained people get there 54% of the time. Pamela studies Bill Clinton’s denial of his affair with Monica Lewinsky “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” – later proven to be a lie. She looks at how his speech patterns and language betrays him.

  • He uses overly formal language
  • he distances himself from “that woman”
  • he uses qualifying language.

Clinton didn’t do this, but Pamela also stays on the lookout for too much or too little detail in the statements, and repeating the question to stall for time.

She also looks separately at body language symbols of liars:

  • They don’t always fidget, some completely freeze their upper bodies.
  • We think liars won’t look you in the eye, some look too much to compensate
  • They often smile to show sincerity, but it is a fake smile, and they are not smiling in the eyes
  • Body language cues can be giving the opposite of the words – eg shaking head while saying yes or shrugging shoulders while telling a confident, good story.

Giveaways in attitude, when conversing with a deceptive person:

  • An honest person will be enthusiastic and help brainstorm to discover the real suspect.
  • an honest person will be infuriated throughout the whole process if they suspect they are being accused – it won’t just be in flashes
  • an honest person will want a strict punishment for the person who committed the crimes.
  • In contrast a deceptive person will talk only in chronological order and get confused when asked to tell it differently (change the order)
  • A deceptive person will be withdrawn from the conversation
  • A deceptive person will add way too much irrelevant detail

A lot of small tells can also show deceptive behaviour – changing blink rate, or putting physical barriers between the asker and themselves, or changing their tone of voice. But these can happen naturally as well, it is only when they happen in clusters that you should be suspicious. When dealing with a suspected liar, be curious and friendly, treat them with dignity, and don’t be too aggressive.

The world is getting more interconnected, people are sharing a lot. By learning to spot lies, you are telling the world that you will not be part of the lie – that your world is a truthful one.

Markham Nolan: How to separate fact and fiction online


Markham Nolan – managing editor of, Markham Nolan has watched journalism evolve from the pursuit of finding facts to the act of verifying those floating in the ether.


Markham has been a journalist since he was 17, but the way people access news is changing, and the people who write news is changing. In the modern age, readers access news in real-time, with journalists playing catchup to collect news from their readers. For example an earthquake in Costa Rica was reported by a citizen on Twitter within 30seconds of it occurring – meaning anyone in the world could know about it within 30 seconds. However, massive amounts of data are uploaded to the internet every second so how do you filter it and work out what is true?

During Hurricane Sandy real photos were posted alongside jokes and fakes, leaving journalists to filter through to find the truth. Instead of the old model of finding the story, their job was to hold back the untrue stories. One tool to identify truth was to identify who was telling it. They followed a conversation by looking at re-tweets, and identified the most influential people. These could then be investigated further to build up a contact directory of genuine sources.

Markham discusses a Youtube video of a violent storm and an unseen woman filming it. It was an amazing clip – journalistic gold, but it needed verification first. The username was Rita Krill, with only a single video uploaded. First they used free tools to identify Rita Krills in a number of cities, then cross-checked with wolfram-alpha to find which cities had violent weather on the day of uploading. Then White pages for addresses, and Google maps to find a swimming pool featured in the video. They could then call her and verified it was true.

Sometimes verifying truth in Youtube videos is extremely important – when they depict war crimes. A video allegedly of Muslim Brotherhood members tossing bloodied bodies off a bridge near Hamah for example. To verify, they looked for details of the bridge itself – the shape of railings or direction of shadows (to identify it is an East-West bridge). They used Google Maps to find East-West bridges around Hamah, then photos of the bridge to check the railings and other features from the video, successfully identifying a bridge near Hamah that matched the one in the video. They verified the location a video was filmed using free tools within 20minutes, from an office in Dublin thousands of kilometers away from the video’s origin.

Although the web is a torrent of information, with a few clues you can work out amazing things. We have amazing tools and algorithms to filter the info, but these tend to be binary (in or out). However truth is not binary, it is a variable, it is emotional and fluid. No matter how good computers get, humans cannot be removed from the truth-finding, because truth is such a human trait.