Reynolds, L., Smith, M.E., Birnholtz, J.P., & Hancock, J.T. (2013). Butler lies from both sides: Actions and perceptions of unavailability messaging in texting. Proceedings of the ACM conference on Computer-Supported Cooperative Work (CSCW 2013). [Top Paper Nomination, top 5%, acceptance rate: 36%]


In an always-connected world, managing one’s unavailability for interaction with others can be as important and difficult as coordinating mutual availability. Prior studies have identified the butler lie, a linguistic strategy commonly used to manage unavailability, and examined message-level data to examine how message senders’ use of butler lies varies across media and situations. This study is the first to examine how butler lies are perceived by those who receive them. Pairs of student participants provided messages sent to each other in real conversations and indicated whether these messages were deceptive or not. These messages were then passed to the partner, who indicated perceived deception and provided an explanation. Results suggest that participants expect butler lies regularly although not as often as they are actually produced, and participants are not very accurate in identifying butler lies. Moreover, detailed analysis of messages and explanations suggests that butler lies play a relational role that is expected by both parties in a dialog.