Who is credible?

By Monday July 13, 2009

Who is credible?

The Internet has unquestionably revolutionized the way people share and obtain knowledge through Web-based technologies. These tools have given us countless opportunities to facilitate online communication with strangers and even more opportunities to be influencers.

In “Is Wikipedia Wicked?” I questioned the credibility of Wikipedia’s sources, which generated some discussion about the credibility of online sources in general. Although Wikipedia is one of the most popular platforms of obtaining fast information on various topics, I believe it is limited as a one-way communication source. Content writers do not necessarily communicate with content readers (due largely to privacy restrictions), leaving little opportunity to establish credibility. As a result, users are often left questioning the credibility of the information on Wikipedia.

The 2008 study Examining the Perceived Credibility of Online Opinions:
Information Adoption in the Online Environment
by Neil Rabjohn, Christy M.K. Cheung, and Matthew K.O. Lee, aims to investigate how electronic word-of-mouth (eWOM) in the virtual opinion platform influences an individual’s decision to consume by examining which factors encourage “information adoption.”

I couldn’t agree more with the point made in this study that “online communities are becoming a force for accumulating opinions and information from a geographically dispersed group of people facilitating knowledge and information transfer all over the world.”

Before the Internet, we did not have the capacity to communicate with people from various countries simultaneously through one platform. The Internet has facilitated an unfathomably powerful sphere of influence on many communities around the world. These communities are continuing to engage individuals to become informed on various topics and discuss their opinions in public forums. The information found on these forums arguably gains credibility due to the two-way communication that it allows between content writers and readers. As both sides are constantly responding to one another, they are building credibility through these back-and-forth discussions.

Based on the findings of the 2008 study, “information adoption within online communities is highly affected by the influencing role of information usefulness.” In other words, credibility of the online source is based on how useful the information is – more so than the credibility of the source providing the information. Based on this finding, one can simply argue that credibility doesn’t mean anything if the information provided is useful to us.

Comparing the “real world” to the virtual world can be difficult in these types of instances. I find it hard to understand that if someone doesn’t trust information from a stranger in real life then how they can trust that same information online. To me, if an informant isn’t credible – online or offline – then their information isn’t either. Nor is it useful in that case.

The 2008 study also investigated precursors to informational usefulness (source credibility and information quality), and analyzed the components of information quality: relevance, timeliness, accuracy, and comprehensiveness. The researchers aimed to determine the influential impact these components have in forming perceived information quality. These findings will likely surprise you:

1. The more complete and relevant information provided by the source, the more it will satisfy the users’ requirements.
2. Source credibility, accuracy, and timeliness were not found to influence information usefulness as much as relevance and comprehensiveness.

Does this mean that our supposed criteria for credibility is if we can understand the information and it is relevant to our tasks?

The results from the following study propose an interesting counter-argument. In The Credibility Divide: Reader Trust of Online Newspapers and Blogs, a study by Jenn Mackay and Wilson Lowrey, they examine credibility of online news media. Through an experiment, they studied how readers evaluate the credibility of a traditional online newspaper in comparison with a journalist blog and a blog written by a non-journalist. The researchers state that much Internet credibility research has resulted in mixed findings. Some research reveals that online media are more credible than more traditional mediums, while other research suggests that online media are less credible.

Participants in this study were asked to rate blogs based on their source credibility (trustworthiness of an individual who constructed a message) and medium credibility (overall credibility of a larger entity, i.e.: a local television news station or newspaper). Interestingly, when participants were asked to rate the credibility of several types of news media on a scale of 1 to 5, blogs were considered least credible. The following are further findings from the study:
• The most credible medium was newspaper (4.5)
• Television (4.4)
• Magazines (4.2)
• Radio (4.0)
• Internet news (3.7)
• Blogs were considered the least credible. News blogs by journalists (2.65) and news blogs by non-journalists (1.7).

According to the study, participants reported being skeptical of Internet sources. However, once they were actually exposed to the sources, participants were slightly more trusting of them.

These findings contradict findings from the first study that I discussed in this post. To restate what it found: information adoption is based on the information’s usefulness to the user, less so than the credibility of the source.

In the second study, it is apparent that participants are more skeptical of Internet sources when it comes to their news. Then why does the perception of online credibility change when it comes to obtaining information on Wikipedia? The more pressing question for you, asked by authors of the second study: “Are participants unreliable at gauging credibility without looking directly at a news source?”

  1. Kati Oliver on Monday 13, 2009

    Wow…this has really got me thinking…the statement about the usefulness of the info vs the credibility of the source really drove it home for me. While people are skeptical of many online sources, there are others that many people believe to be the be-all-and-end-all of the information on a given topic (i.e. Wikipedia). I love Wikipedia for the fact that it is a quick way to find out information, however it’s not the only site I will check out to garner info.

    I also think that people need to look at the source of the information. If you are getting your info from a news blog, then you can be 95 per cent sure that the info received from said blog is credible.

    Great post!