How do people with low trust in the media decide which sources to trust? This is the central question of published report As part of the Trust in News project of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism.
Answer: People are quick to make judgments, or quick judgments as the study authors call them, when confronted with the media in well-known digital media. These hasty decisions are based on a range of things, including the names and brands of the outlets themselves and the people who have shared stories.
To explore this phenomenon, researchers surveyed 100 people in four different countries, Brazil, India, the United Kingdom and the United States, about their news habits.
Specifically, the authors chose participants who were rated “generally unconfident”. These volunteers were judged as such based on their answers to the questions “What are your interests in politics, if any?” and “Overall, how confident are you in the information in the following list” of 15 news outlets from their country. (In the United States, this list included ABC, NBC News, Breitbart, and others.)
Participants’ responses to these questions were measured on a five-point scale, and those whose scores indicated a lower-than-average level of trust in news media as well as a lower-than-average interest in politics were selected for the final sample. These people were also regular users of Facebook, WhatsApp, and Google.
With each of these participants, the researchers conducted video interviews in which the volunteers showed them how they used each of the chosen online platforms. This allowed us to notice in real time what they were paying attention to to judge whether the information was relevant and trustworthy for them. This technology allowed us to go beyond theoretical answers about platform use and draw on real experiences, where we can also delve into Research participants around specific and concrete examples.
This is what they discovered:
These “generally cautious” volunteers are unlikely to find news on their regular platforms. When they saw her, they were indifferent to her. And the rare times they’ve seen it, the news tends to be about less important topics, like entertainment.
When these participants came across news articles on Facebook, Google or WhatsApp, they quickly got an idea of the credibility of the information published. These judgments tend to be based on six main elements which are explained below:
The researchers found that people who did not pay attention to current events were engaged in the headlines, but the effect may be the opposite of that sought by the media. “The more attractive the title, the more I didn’t trust it,” said one person in Brazil. A sentiment echoed by another UK participant, who added: “I think the more boring the title, the more trustworthy it is.”
The topic of the article also plays a role in the trust that volunteers place in the publications. While these people tend to be skeptical of current events, they are especially skeptical of news related to political issues. Here’s the view of one UK respondent:
When you say “confidence,” it depends. Trust them about what? If I watch a news report about flooding in the South, do I think they are talking about it correctly? probably. If I read about the statistics that matter to politicians, would I believe it? No, because all media is owned by politicians.
What respondents focused on depends on the platform on which they saw the information. On Facebook and WhatsApp, knowing who shared the article affects their perception of the information as well as the interaction the article got (likes, comments, etc.). Checking Facebook and labels also helped. For example, a participant in India said he trusted a media outlet “because this source has a blue tick, which means it has been verified by Facebook.”
However, it appears that volunteers, like the majority of the population, do not know how platforms determine what news is presented to them. Note that the source of the information was not always visible. People were also skeptical about the value that should be given to articles marked as sponsored content. One US volunteer, for example, said this about sponsored content in Google searches:
“Google is a private company. You can pay Google to be the first result you see. So for certain topics, I have to remind myself that it’s very easy to pay to appear in the first results in Google.”
Participants also expressed concern that the social nature of these platforms (friends and family sharing information, leading them to be believed to be reliable sources) makes it easy to spread false information or hide shady practices.
WhatsApp, for example, is not just text messages; The news is often shared there in audio format. Users also expressed concern about it. One Brazilian respondent said this about his father’s use of voice on WhatsApp:
“[Il] He can hardly read and write. He’s only using voice messages, so from his point of view, the news seems more reliable because he doesn’t know where it’s coming from. So he’s more likely to believe anything he gets from anyone.”
What does this mean for media looking to gain user trust?
“For news outlets, reaching this audience segment may require more systematic and sustainable brand effort, as well as close attention to how stories are accurately presented in digital spaces and the impact they can have on trust,” he explains. on Twitter Amy Ross Arguedas Postdoctoral researcher at Reuters Institute and lead author of the article.
Because these volunteers discover news on platforms that are not media sites, the study “urges platforms to take a closer look at the role of design decisions and technologies in the evaluation of news by users.”
Read the full report over here.
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