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Can you detect deception in a viral tweet?
A viral tweet caught my attention this week. Here it is. At the time of writing it has over 700,000 views, 1,600 likes and 1,700 retweets.
It caught my attention because the words in it didn't ring true. That doesn’t mean it’s a lie. I wasn’t there, I don’t know what happened. What it does mean, and what any statement analysis means, is that it raises questions. Only if those questions are answered can we conclude if the tweet covers the truth or a falsehood.
It’s 49 words and 275 characters long. How many observations can be raised and questions asked about something so short? The answer is, quite a lot.
Let’s break it down
Questioned by police for 20 mins just now for having a ticket for my train journey back to London.
Observation: He doesn’t say who was questioned. It is not “I was questioned...” or “I am being questioned...” merely “questioned”. This lack of ownership is regularly found in deceptive statements where the writer is claiming an event happened to them when it did not. Although we must remember this is a tweet limited to 280 characters, so some brevity or editing may have taken place.
Question 1: Did this event truly happen?
Observation: The reason for the questioning is odd. I would expect someone to be questioned for not having a ticket or for having the wrong ticket. It is stated here that he was “questioned for ... having a ticket”. We can conclude the writer may have thought he had a correct ticket, which he would honestly state as “having a ticket”. Another possibility is it’s a typo and should read “not having a ticket”.
Whatever the truth, this could have been worded in a clearer way. Often in deception, phrases are oddly worded because the writer does not have truthful experience to draw on to help word the description of the event clearly.
Question 2: Why were you questioned? What was the issue that caused this period of questioning.
Observation: The ordering may be significant. It is stated “questioned by police” rather than “the police questioned me”. This could indicate that the writer deems the fact he was questioned more significant than who questioned him. This would fit with my possibility that the writer thought he had the correct ticket and was therefore sensitive to being questioned about it.
Question 3: Did you take issue with being questioned about your ticket?
Observation: Telling us that this was a “train journey back to London” does not add to the writer’s bigger point about the inconvenience to him or the waste of resources. Is it added to show status or significance?
Yep, 4 police officers for 20 minutes to establish whether my ticket (which I had bought via Trainline and showed them) was valid.
Observation: There is a repetition of the police and the time taken. Repeated concepts are usually a priority of the person stating them.
Question 4: What annoyed you most about his incident? The number of police officers intervening, the fact the police intervened, or the time it took?
Observation: The writer does not state whether the ticket was deemed to be valid or not after the period of establishing. It would strengthen his point around the waste of time and resource if it was a valid ticket that had caused the issue. Why is his not stated? There’s a high probability here it was not deemed a valid ticket.
Observation: The fact he bought the ticket from Trainline, and he showed them the ticket does not add to his main point about wastefulness, so why has he stated it? In fact, for there to be any debate around the validity of the ticket he must have shown it to them; otherwise the debate would be around whether he had a ticket or not.
These observations suggest he did have a ticket, but it may not have been valid (for readers outside the UK, the British train ticket system can be hugely confusing). I can see a possibility that he was claiming it wasn’t his fault he had the wrong ticket, but Trainline’s fault for selling that one to him. Is he getting his excuse out early, or leaking the reason he used at the time?
Question 5: What was established. Did you have a valid ticket or not?
Question 6: Did you have any reluctance to show the police your ticket when asked?
Meantime, seven homes in Britain were burgled.
Observation: This is a political point or at the least a national talking point. Although the message is stronger if the time and resource was spent on checking a valid ticket, it is a reasonable to ask if 4 police officers spending 20 minutes checking an invalid ticket is an effective use of police time.
However, that second view point would be held particularly strongly by someone who thought they had a valid ticket and had to spend 20 minutes trying to persuade 4 police officers their ticket was valid.
Question 7: Did it go down like this... you thought, or assumed, your ticket was valid for that train? You didn’t like being questioned about it, you also didn’t like the fact they wouldn’t make an exception in this instance. Things got a little heated, at one point you refused to show your ticket when asked (but did soon afterwards). Your disgruntlement afterwards led you to tweet this version of events?
That’s a lot of questions and observations on 49 words. The number of potential issues I can spot in these words doesn’t fill me with confidence that the truth is being told here, but as I often say: I wasn’t there, I don’t know.
Please don't hesitate to throw any other viral tweets or statements my way for a similar analysis! Leave them in the comments below or email firstname.lastname@example.org