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Is This How We (All) Do It?: Butler Lies and Ambiguity Through a Broader Lens


The ubiquity of mobile devices has resulted in more opportunities to interact with more people than ever before. Given a finite capacity for interaction with others, people commonly manage their availability by limiting others’ access to them. Prior work has demonstrated the importance of doing so in a relationally sensitive way and identified the butler lie, in which deception is used to manage availability, as a common linguistic strategy. Two key limitations of existing exploratory work, however, are limited samples of primarily students and a focus on media properties in understanding ambiguity that enables butler lies to be plausible. This paper aims to address these issues via a broad field study of deception and butler lies using a novel message-sampling method employed via a custom mobile app. Results show clear evidence of butler lies occurring in a broader population, with some gender differences; and urge adoption of a multi-level framework for understanding ambiguity that also includes private information and infrastructure-level attributes of interaction media.

M. French
M.E. Smith
J.B. Birnholtz
J.T. Hancock
Proceedings of the ACM Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems (CHI 2015). (Honorable Mention Top Paper)
Publication Date
April 23, 2015