Introduction

This report will analyse a selected case study and provide an insight into the formation of perceptions and online behaviour. Cyber-psychological concepts will be applied where relevant and an investigation into potential privacy issues, digital footprints, social engineering and legal issues will be conducted. A conclusion of findings and possible outcome(s) in relation to the case study will conclude this report.

Formation of Perceptions, Online Behaviour and Applicable Cyber-Psychological Concepts

To effectively analyse the Mindy and Clayton case study, the relevant cyber-psychological concepts must be explored and implemented to form informed perceptions and potential outcomes. The Online Disinhibition Effect is one concept that is paramount to assist in the formation of perceptions, as Suler (2004) implies, the online disinhibition effect is how interaction between persons differs between cyberspace and the real world. Suler continues to propose that there are at least six factors to consider, dissociative anonymity, invisibility, asynchronicity, solipsistic introjection, dissociative imagination and minimization of status and authority. Suler concludes that outside of the online disinhibition effect, individual differences and predispositions and shifts among intrapsychic constellations must also be considered to determine the amount that persons will self-disclose online. The other key cyber-psychological concept to consider is communication styles and what styles are present within the case study, what effect could these identified communication styles have on the persons involved in the case and how might these communication styles affect the potential outcome(s) of the case study.

Upon initial investigation of the Mindy and Clayton case study, both parties display a profile image that could be a genuine representation of the real human behind the keyboard. This may indicate a sense of confidence from both parties, as they are both keen to show a representation of themselves publicly and could therefore indicate genuine reasons for the upkeep of a profile and presence on Tinder, also known as benign disinhibition. Margalit (2016) suggests that due to the ever-increasing amount of time humans spend using computing devices, over one third of their leisure time during 2015 (Office for National Statistics, 2017), humans have developed a way of automatically forming an impression of another based on the profile picture displayed. Margalit continues to state that ‘impressions are based on open and hidden hints and, surprisingly, are quite accurate for the most part’. However, another consideration to be explored is that while both persons have what could seem to be a genuine profile, Nolan (2015) proposes that it could be perceived as toxic disinhibition and a complete fabrication of information, also known as identity misrepresentation or catfishing. Harris (2018) claims that catfishing is where one develops a fake profile online, in an attempt to deceive another into the belief that they are someone else entirely. Harris continues to infer that a lack of confidence in one’s physical representation could be directly related to catfishing or that one could use the fake persona due to boredom or to gain revenge on another through the gathering of sensitive information. Vanman (2018) shares a differing view on the reasons for catfishing, inferring that loneliness, exploration of sexuality and the ability to escape insecurities, among others were identified as reasons for catfishing, within a study involving persons who self-identified as catfish.

There is also the possibility that Clayton could have suffered previous negative experiences through the Tinder application or similar applications. Finkel et al. (pp. 46-51) suggest that there are many benefits to online dating such as the process not being quite as time consuming as traditional offline dating methods, however, it is also proposed that aspects of online dating methods do not improve romantic relations and can undermine them, a view also shared by Benamati (2016) and Marateck (2018). Benamati continues stating that ‘dating sites can alter our confidence levels and have adverse effects on how we begin to internalize our self-confidence’.

Communication Styles

The University of Minnesota (2018) claim there are 12.5 different types of communication, three basic types of communication, verbal, written and nonverbal communication and these types can then be explored further to find subcategories such as storytelling and crucial conversations (Verbal). The communication style that is prominent throughout the case study is written communication, as the main method of interaction between Clayton and Mindy is printed text (University of Minnesota, 2018) through the messenger feature of the Tinder application. Lahiri (2017) implies that written communication can be perceived as an acceptable method to communicate with another at the beginning of a relationship, as messages can be read over and over again to gain further understanding or perception. However, Lahiri continues claiming that written communication can increase one’s personal image, which could potentially have a negative effect in this case study if a message or the personal image of one party is perceived badly (Koehler, 2001).

Storytelling is a communication style that is considered to be verbal (University of Minnesota, 2018) but could also be written, when a story is portrayed in printed text such as a book or in a form of digital communication (email, website, e-book, etc). Throughout the case study, Mindy talks about the last 10 years she has spent living in the United Kingdom, sends pictures and videos of her everyday life, family and friends and eventually her children. This could be perceived as Mindy attempting to make Clayton feel more at ease by providing lots of detail about her personal life, as Koivu (2015) states ‘When we cannot express ourselves in other forms than text a lot of emphasis is put on [a] persons storytelling abilities.’ However, as the communication style is written and no face-to-face cues or verbal communication exists, the possibility remains that the storytelling aspect of Mindy’s communication could be fabricated as part of a character persona.

A Crucial conversation takes place between Clayton and Mindy where Mindy feels strongly about Clayton travelling with two female friends following his week in Liverpool and that Clayton is only staying in Liverpool for one week. Crucial conversations, as defined by Paterson et al. (2008), are a discussion between multiple parties where the stakes are high, differences of opinion are present and strong emotional responses are present. Paterson et al. continue to suggest that crucial conversations can result in many positive outcomes but can potentially be devastating with a far reach to the persons involved.

Verbal communication could potentially be present as Clayton mentions that Mindy’s Instagram and Tinder accounts were linked. There was also the potential for verbal communication later in the case study, where the possibility of using the video feature of Skype was mentioned but never came to fruition.

Asynchronicity

Throughout the entirety of the interaction between Mindy and Clayton the documented communication between them has been asynchronous, through the use of the messaging feature within the Tinder application. Suler claims that asynchronous communication is where the parties involved do not communicate in real time and one’s train of thought may progress faster toward benign or toxic thoughts and/or feelings. Suler concludes that asynchronous communication can sometimes be experienced as if one is running away from an issue that may be personal, emotional or hostile in nature.

The use of asynchronous communication in this case study could be interpreted as benign disinhibition, as the parties involved have only recently become aware of one another and a face-to-face meeting at this early stage could be disastrous to the relationship if either party suffers from any social psychological issues or if toxic disinhibition is present and one party is not who they say they are. Asynchronous communication in this case study could also be deemed beneficial in places, due to the nature of conversation taking place being of a personal and emotional nature. Examples of this include where Mindy is upset about Clayton only staying for one week in Liverpool and where Clayton raises the issue of Mindy not being honest about having children, as the delay in communication could allow time to properly process the information being communicated and write a response communication in return that is not fuelled by emotion.

Solipsistic Introjection

Solipsistic Introjection can be defined as the feeling that one’s mind has merged with that of another, with one assigning a voice to the other that is used to read incoming communications (Suler, 2004). Suler continues to infer that one may also read the message of another using one’s own voice, creating the feeling of a safe space as communicating with oneself feels safer than communicating with others.

Solipsistic Introjection appears prominently throughout the case study and Clayton appears to be creating a character persona of Mindy throughout the interaction between them. Initially Clayton perceives Mindy’s proposition of meeting her in Paris to be spoken in jest, as she did not seem to be sure on the idea thereafter. This could be perceived as logical thinking, as they had not known one another for long, however, it does raise the question of how does Clayton know that she is truly unsure about the meeting or was the proposition really spoken half-heartedly in jest?

Clayton also tends to conclude his perceptions of Mindy throughout the interaction, with descriptions such as ‘She is beautiful, smart, well educated, has her own business is in her mid-twenties’. It would appear that this information is all derived from a Tinder profile and as such raise’s questions such as, is this information real? Can information gathered from a profile really be trusted? Should the perceptions we develop from profile information really be considered factual? Clayton later mentions that Mindy seemed very caring and interested in having a family, which could be deemed benign if the information is factual. However, as there is no face-to-face interaction present within this conversation, how can Clayton be sure that the emotion he thinks is being conveyed by Mindy is genuine and not just Mindy telling him what she thinks he may want to hear.

Potential PrIvacy Issues, Digital Footprints, Social Engineering and Legal Issues

Privacy, Digital Footprints and Social Engineering

Clayton claims to have conducted due diligence before meeting Mindy and attempted to find more information about Mindy using a google search. Clayton claims that he found many little details such as mostly men followed her profile and that Mindy had two children. This personal information is known as a digital footprint and Symantec (2018) propose that sensitive information is collected when a user performs an activity online, such as posting on a social media platform or making a purchase through an online store and this digital information is known as a user’s digital footprint.

Hassan and Hijazi (2017, pp.66-67) and Krombholz et al. (2014) define social engineering as a psychological attack where the attacker attempts to retrieve sensitive information from someone, to compromise a person personally or a computer system. Hassan and Hijazi continue to suggest that social engineers aim to exploit a tendency to trust within humans, to retrieve sensitive information and the most common method is phishing. Within the Mindy and Clayton case study, Clayton confronts Mindy about her children, which she did not mention during previous communications, and gains sensitive information regarding them such as images, videos and descriptions of their personalities. This could be regarded as a form of social engineering, as it could be perceived that Clayton has psychologically manipulated Mindy into revealing sensitive information regarding her children. However, Clayton later claims that Mindy intended to tell him in person about her children and she seemed very passionate about them, he empathised and bought her story. This could therefore be viewed as benign and Mindy could have had genuine reason(s) to hide the fact that she has children.

UK Legislation

When considering the legal implications that could become prevalent in this case study, if either party (Mindy or Clayton) reported the other to the local lawful authority, depending on the severity of the allegation(s) the lawful authority could apply for a warrant, under the Investigatory Powers Act 2016, that empowers them to intercept communications between the parties involved (legislation.gov.uk, 2018). As the lawful authority would be potentially collecting personal information about the parties involved, GOV.UK (2018) claim that personal information collected must be used lawfully for a specific purpose under the Data Protection Act 2018 and that the individual whom the data relates to, has the right to be informed as to how their data is being used and to stop or restrict the processing of their data. The Information Commissioner’s Office (2018) infer that upon identification of a breach of the Data Protection Act 2018, action can be taken to change how the data obtained is to be used, including criminal prosecution, non-criminal enforcement and an audit of the individual or organisation accused.

High-Profile Cases

A recent high-profile case in the United Kingdom involved an individual named Duarte Xavier, as Sky News claim Xavier used fake profiles on dating websites and applications, such as Tinder, in the attempt of tempting men into meeting him. This could be perceived as both Dissociative Anonymity and Dissociative Imagination (Suler, 2004) as Xavier has created a character persona of a female named Ana, that he used online to lure unsuspecting men to meet with him for sexual relations. Sky News continue to infer that Xavier demanded that the men wear a blindfold during the meetings with Xavier, keeping his true appearance invisible (Suler, 2004) to the victims. A potential conclusion of the Mindy and Clayton case study could be similar to the Duarte Xavier case, as either party involved (Mindy or Clayton) could be luring the other into a similar situation through the use of fabricated information, within a dating profile and asynchronous communications (Suler, 2004).

Conclusion of Possible Outcomes (Mindy and Clayton Case Study)

Upon final review of the case study and potential findings identified using cyber-psychological concepts, it could be deemed appropriate to say that there are a multitude of potential conclusions to the Mindy and Clayton case study. The fact that the case study is presented using only information provided by Clayton requires close attention, as Clayton could be fabricating some or all of the information presented in the case study and could be catfishing online to meet women. An alternative to this could be that Mindy is identified later as a catfish and has been playing Clayton all along. Either of the identified toxic conclusions could result in an altercation or worse upon meeting in Liverpool.

Finally, after identifying potential toxic conclusions to the case study, one must also identify a benign resolution. Online dating sites and applications are used extensively in the United Kingdom and eHarmony UK (2018) predict that due to the development of smartphone technology and increasing availability of internet access, over 50% of couples in a relationship will have met online by 2031. This information could therefore lead to identifying a benign conclusion, where both Mindy and Clayton are genuine people and meet in Liverpool with the potential of starting a relationship.

References

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Project Details

Client:

Blackpool and The Fylde College

Project Date:

November 18, 2018