Butler lies: Awareness, deception, and design

Jeff Hancock, Jeremy Birnholtz, Natalya Bazarova, Jamie Guillory, Josh Perlin, Barrett Amos

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contribution

72 Scopus citations


Instant messaging (IM) is a common and popular way for co-workers, friends, and family to stay in touch, but its "always-on" properties can sometimes lead people to feel overexposed or too readily available to others for conversation. This, in turn, may lead people to deceive others about their actual status or availability. In this paper, we introduce the notion of the "butler lie" to describe lies that allow for polite initiation and termination of conversations. We present results from a field study of 50 IM users, in which participants rated each of their messages at the time of sending to indicate whether or not it was deceptive. About one tenth of all IM messages were rated as lies and, of these, about one fifth were butler lies. These results suggest that butler lies are an important social practice in IM, and that existing approaches to interpersonal awareness, which focus on accurate assessment of availability, may need to take deception and other social practices into account.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Title of host publicationCHI 2009
Subtitle of host publicationDigital Life New World - Proceedings of the 27th International Conference on Human Factors in Computing Systems
Number of pages10
StatePublished - 2009
Event27th International Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI 2009 - Boston, MA, United States
Duration: Apr 4 2009Apr 9 2009

Publication series

NameConference on Human Factors in Computing Systems - Proceedings


Other27th International Conference Extended Abstracts on Human Factors in Computing Systems, CHI 2009
Country/TerritoryUnited States
CityBoston, MA


  • Computer-mediated communication
  • Deception
  • Instant messaging
  • Interpersonal awareness

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Software
  • Human-Computer Interaction
  • Computer Graphics and Computer-Aided Design


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