Judging Credibility of the Internet as Users

Since Week 5’s topic was on credibility and purpose, I want to look at this from the user’s point of view. The Internet does not come with a handbook with warnings and instructions. It is up to the user to learn (or be taught) how to navigate through the loads of information available and choose what to consume.

My stance: The more a person uses the Internet, the better she or he will become at judge a website’s credibility.

The evidence: A mail survey (1089 respondents) was conducted by Penn State University Professor S. Shyam Sundar and instructor Carmen Stavrositu to determine if this was the case.

Their results support my opinion. The findings show that if a person uses the Internet to search for information, they will develop a “self-efficacy with the medium”. This means that a person will believe she or he is capable of using the Internet, which the study says leads to more directed consumption of online sources, and that affects a person’s perceptions about the Internet’s credibility. In short, internet usage increases our abilities to judge what we read.
Interesting findings from the survey:

  • The more people use a medium, the more credible they believe it to be.
  • There’s a positive correlation between newspaper use and Internet use, leading them to state that the Internet is seen as a supplement-not a substitute to traditional news sources. This adds to the discussion on the complementarity of print and web that went on Lieu’s post.
  • Heavy newspaper users rate Internet sources the same way they rate traditional media, probably due to the newspapers heavy marketing of their web pages.
  • If the Internet is used as a source of entertainment, perceptions of credibility does not change much since you’re looking for amusement.

For further studies, check these two sites out:

  • Stanford University Web Credibility Project on what increases credibility
  • Consumer Report’s Web Watch interesting findings on how people SAY they evaluate websites credibility (privacy statements) vs how they actually evaluate it (design of the page).

Side note: People who have weak analysis skills will have a hard time judging sites despite amount of time spent online and may need outside help in determining the credibility of information online.

Images on the chart taken from here and here:

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4 Responses to Judging Credibility of the Internet as Users

  1. gegao says:

    Yesterday my colleague ask me: “is it really true that you can see Great Wall from the Moon?” I told her this is not possible since you cannot see a sneak in the mountain from the plane. However, after we started this conversation, another 3 colleagues involved, and starting criticizing me. They said they all saw the picture of ‘Great Wall from the Moon’ on the internet, and they all believe it is true.

    Sometimes it is really hard to tell whether the information is true or not on internet. you can even use multimedia to manipulate the audiences.

  2. esmayu says:

    True. Maybe they don’t know what NASA has to say (they say it’s not possible).

    It’s almost scary how you can’t always diffrentiate what’s real and what’s not on the Net.

  3. dzhendigi says:

    Hey Esma,

    Thanks for your post. That finding about users really evaluating sites based on their appearance somehow doesn’t surprise me. When you think about it, most quality print publications are also well-designed, and we know that most of them have actually been professionally designed. Do you think maybe we simply look for the same qualities in Web sites, perhaps subconsciously? I know I’m often guilty (?) of conflating style with substance, but then I think that perhaps this is not so shallow: if people take pride in their site’s appearance, there’s a good chance they also pay a lot of attention to the quality of their content (your blog is a good example – the design is becoming more focussed as your discussion is).


  4. esmayu says:

    If humans did not discriminate things by appearances, we wouldn’t do very well as a species. It’s not shallow for us to judge books by covers (or websites by design). The design can make it easier for users to navigate or read. Design isn’t the be-all-end-all, but when there are countless sites out there, I’m not going to take my time to determine if a site is worth viewing if it’s poor design wise or doesn’t attract my interests.

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