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An Overview of Internet Credibility

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1 An Overview of Internet Credibility
Miriam J. Metzger Department of Communication University of California Santa Barbara Metzger, Overview of Internet Credibility

2 Origins of Credibility Research
Rhetorical studies Psychology (study of persuasion) The study of credibility goes back a long way. Its origin can be traced back to Aristotle’s writings on rhetoric and his notions of “ethos, logos, pathos.” That is, to be an effective/persuasive speaker, you need to understand all 3: Ethos is appeal based on the character of the speaker (e.g., speaker’s reputation) Logos is appeal based on logic or reason (e.g., content of speech). Pathos is appeal based on emotion (e.g., appeals to the emotions of the audience…fear, etc.) Source credibility, or the credibility of speakers, was taken up again during 20th century by psychologists interested in studying persuasion. Metzger, Overview of Internet Credibility

3 Eras in Modern Credibility Research
Early 20th c. source and message credibility (Yale group and others) Mid 20th c. media credibility (professional organizations) Late 20th c. Internet credibility Major Eras: Interest in credibility has ebbed and flowed over the last century The study of credibility in psychology focused on persuasion and the credibility of sources of (mostly) spoken speeches. This began in the early decades of the 20th century largely as a response to propaganda efforts during WWI and, particularly, WWII. The “Yale Group” lead by psychologist Carl Hovland conducted numerous studies of source credibility as it pertained to persuasion/attitude change. (This research identified the major components of what it means for a source to be perceived as credible by an audience, which I will talk about in a moment. It also spurred a large body of research in communication looking at both source and message credibility—chars of speakers and chars of messages/info.) The next major interest in credibility research came from professional rather than academic concerns. As television entered the scene in the 1950s, subscription rates for daily newspapers started to sag. As a result, newspaper professional organizations got very interested in the idea of the credibility of newspapers versus television (i.e., “media credibility”). (Major finding there was that the more people relied on a medium for news—tv or newspapers—the more credible they thought that medium was.) The study of credibility was recently resurrected in the late 1990s by the emergence of the Internet and WWW. Academic (psychology, communication, persuasion) and professional (news, ecommerce) concerns. One interesting thing to note is that the Internet/Web conflates the notion of source, media, and message credibility, a point I will return to later. Metzger, Overview of Internet Credibility

4 Definition of Credibility
Credibility = believability trustworthiness expertise source credibility The definition of credibility from these literatures (Hovland et al.) is that credibility is believability of a source, message…. It is made up of 2 primary dimensions including, trustworthiness and expertise. Some secondary dimensions include source dynamism (charisma) and physical attractiveness, for example. One thing to notice is that the primary dimensions include both objective and subjective components. That is, trustworthiness is a receiver judgment based on subjective factors. Expertise can also be subjectively perceived but includes objective characteristics of the source or message (source credentials; information quality). Comm and psychology see credibility as a perceptual variable: Credibility “is not an objective property of the source of information but is a receiver perception;” “it does not reside in an object, a person, or a piece of information” Thus, they study audience perceptions of credibility rather than directly measure source or information quality. Library and Information Science perspectives see credibility as more of an objective property of information. physical attractiveness dynamism information quality Metzger, Overview of Internet Credibility

5 Credibility & the Internet
Reasons for the re-emergence of credibility research: information cost/investment fewer gatekeepers ease of electronic sabotage commercial nature of the Web psychological leveling effect of information format The concern about credibility stems from the fact that Internet and digitization technologies lowered the cost of information dissemination, which increased both the amount of info available while increasing the ease of accessing that info (Now, almost “anyone can be an author”). In the past, the enormous cost and complexity involved in producing info limited the number of info producers, and those producers had substantial investment in ensuring the quality of their product in order to attract and keep customers. Problems arise because much Internet-based content is posted without much oversight or editorial review. Unlike most traditional (print) publishing, information posted on the Web may not be subject to filtering through professional gatekeepers, and it often lacks traditional authority indicators such as author identity or established reputation. Added to that, the Internet is a global medium so impossible to regulate. Related, there are no universal standards for posting information online and digital information may be easily altered, plagiarized, misrepresented, or created anonymously under false pretenses. And the alteration of digital information is difficult, if not impossible, to detect. The commercial nature of the Web adds to credibility concerns in few different ways: Informational and commercial content are more easily blended in the Web format. Rise of Internet as major conduit of commerce has raised trust & credibility issues to the fore, as sensitive financial transactions take place. Burbules (1998) further suggests that because information is presented in a similar format on the Web (i.e., Web sites), this creates a kind of ‘leveling effect,’ putting all information on the same level of accessibility and, thus, all authors on the same level of credibility. Metzger, Overview of Internet Credibility

6 Difficulties in Studying Online Credibility
Credibility is perceptual/situational Internet is a “moving target” Many levels and types of credibility to consider There are substantial challenges to studying Internet credibility, for example… Perceptions of credibility vary from person to person by situation. What one person finds credible, another may not (cred is not a universal) due to different needs and goals when they go online, and different ways of processing information (likely notice different things). All of these things influence credibility perceptions, so how do we systematically understand and describe so much variability? Moving target problem: the Internet and its applications are always changing and evolving; and so are its users. BJ Fogg: “For web credibility researchers, there are 3 significant moving targets: the Web user base, user experience levels, and web technology itself. As these variables change and evolve, research done in the past may no longer apply or may not be as useful.” Several levels and types of credibility to consider… Metzger, Overview of Internet Credibility

7 Levels of Online Credibility
Can measure the credibility of: the Web as a medium of communication different forms of Internet communication (sites, blogs, , etc.) entire Web sites (design, organization, etc.) some information or messages on a Web site site sponsor/operator (e.g., authors of online information or messages (e.g., Jayson Blair) These are just a few examples…[read slide] the Web as a medium of communication versus other information resources (TV, newspapers, books, etc.) different forms of Internet-based communication (Web sites, blogs, , chat groups, etc.) entire Web sites (design, organization, etc.) some information or messages residing on a Web site A Web site sponsor/operator (e.g., authors of online information or messages (e.g., Jayson Blair) Metzger, Overview of Internet Credibility

8 Types of Online Credibility
Surface credibility Presumed credibility Reputed credibility Earned credibility Surface: simple inspection or initial firsthand experience (e.g., attractiveness, design) (A site that looks professionally designed is cred.) Presumed: general assumptions in the mind of the perceiver about who is credible (e.g., doctor vs. car salesman) (A site whose domain name ends in .edu or .org versus .com) Reputed: third-party endorsements, media reports, or referrals, especially if they come from respected sources (links from respected pages, seals, word of mouth) (A site that won an award from PC magazine) Earned: [positive/negative] firsthand experience that extends over time (A site that has consistently provided accurate/reliable information over the past year). To make things more complex, each of these types of cred can be assessed at several levels (site, sponsor, message, etc.) Metzger, Overview of Internet Credibility

9 What Makes Web Sites Credible?
Presence of date stamp showing information is current Source citations, especially citations to scientific data or references Author identification Author qualifications and credentials Presence of contact information Absence of advertising Presence of privacy and security policies Certifications or seals from trusted third parties Professional, attractive, and consistent page design, including graphics, logos, color schemes, etc. Easy navigation, well organized site Sponsorship by or external links to reputable organizations Notification/presence of editorial review process or board Absence of typographical errors and broken links Professional-quality and clear writing Download speed Message relevance, tailoring Interactive features (e.g., search capabilities, confirmation messages, quick customer service responses) Past experience with source/organization (reputation) Domain name and URL suffix Ability to verify claims elsewhere (e.g., external links) Comprehensiveness of information provided Ranking in search engine output Paid access to information Plausibility of message arguments Lots of speculation and research on this (I’m covering Web only)…has produced a laundry list of things that can impact credibility. Most of these have been tested, but not all. To make sense of all this, and rather than reading each of these now, I organized them as follows… Metzger, Overview of Internet Credibility

10 Elements of Web Credibility
site features information features Professional, attractive page design Easy navigation, well organized site Absence of errors and broken links Certifications, recommendations, or seals from trusted third parties Interactive features Paid access to information Fast download speed Domain name suffix Absence of advertising Sponsorship by or links to reputable organizations Presence of privacy and security policies Presence of date stamp showing information is current Citations (especially to scientific data or references), links to external authorities Message relevance, tailoring Professional-quality and clear writing Message accuracy, bias, plausibility Information breadth and depth Description of editorial review process or board Web credibility I found that they fell into 4 general categories: judgments of Web credibility stem from features at the site level, features of the information on a Web site, features of the author (or site operator), and features of Web users themselves. [I am sure to miss stuff…e.g., rank in search engine output] Go through each one quickly. user features author features Past experience with source Internet experience & reliance Age Prior knowledge and attitudes Motivation/goal for search task Author identification Author qualifications and credentials Author contact information Absence of commercial motive Reputation, name recognition Metzger, Overview of Internet Credibility

11 Some Key Findings Web is perceived to be a credible medium
People are not willing to verify Web information Internet reliance and experience matter Web site type matters Source reputation matters Site design matters most! Beyond research looking at what makes Web sites credible, there are some other key findings in the Internet credibility literature. Despite its problems, people rely a great deal on the Internet for information and believe it to be a highly credible medium of information, compared to other sources. It is interesting, then, that people are not willing to expend much effort in verifying or critically evaluating the information they find online. There is some burgeoning research that suggests motivation is the key to the amount of effort people will expend. Like with earlier studies of newspaper vs. television credibility, there is some indication that reliance on the Web and Internet experience impact credibility perceptions (and verification/critical evaluation). However, research is mixed here. Site type matters, particularly if there is a commercial motive involved, then credibility ratings are lowered. Source reputation (reputation of author or organization) matters, not surprisingly. But the thing that matters most of all is: site design/aesthetics! This is disturbing in that it suggests that good design can trump good information. Couple this with fact that people are a bit lazy to verify Internet information, and the implications are even more ominous. Makes our job here in the next 2 days very important! Metzger, Overview of Internet Credibility

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