By Ian Ségal
31 October 2019
With its far-reaching capacity for audience targeting, the Internet has grown into a stage used for content publishing, distribution, and communication. But, not all the information being produced and broadcasted is factual, let alone truthful. From formal news broadcasting agencies that have traditionally dominated the airwaves of both television and radio to individuals who have staked their claim to the Internet highway with their ability to influence an audience, accountability seems to be vapid across the World Wide Web.
Credibility. Whether it be print, television, or radio, these traditional forms of mass media have and continue to operate under the watchful eye of those tasked with scrutinizing and confirming their produced news. However, the Internet is vacuous of such officials and organizations authorized to validate online information. As pointed out by Dominick (2013), the void of a gatekeeper has had a direct impact on supersaturating the Internet with endless trivial information that has not been thoroughly evaluated for its legitimacy. Whether it be television news broadcasts or printed journalism, such media holds itself to a higher standard of authenticating their data sources (Dominick, 2013). This puts into question the genuineness of the news being disseminated across the Internet, regardless of the social media platform or website that is publishing such content.
Additionally, the information offered on different platforms on the Internet is presented with a host of measures used in assessing credibility. According to Li and Suh (2015), the visual layers within the user experience—its design and presentation—directly impact the readership assessment of information integrity. In other words, research has demonstrated that consumers evaluate much of what they read by how it is presented—like the cover of a book—whether it be a social media site such as Twitter or an independently operated website or blog (Li & Suh, 2015). And such a user experience compels an audience to embrace its information as fact by manipulating visual and audio components which create a social dependency for the content. Ultimately, this not only gives the content creator the authority as a news source but also cultivates it as a social media influencer—empowering it through what becomes viral followership.
Authority. In addition to gauging the credibility of information sources on the Internet, another challenge that web users find is sifting through the deluge of information for the purpose of identifying sources of both quality and trustworthiness. Unfortunately, a simple online search under a particular topic can quickly and easily produce tens of millions of potential sources in its results (Dominick, 2013). The problem for anyone begins with trying to identify those initial sources that offer the most reliable and honest information, but no one has the time or capacity to review that much material. With an overload of informational possibilities, people are forced to review the first five to ten offered sources and contrast them against a subjective baseline of appeal, argument plausibility, and data quality (Li & Suh, 2015). These criteria rest upon the discernment of the reader who, using their own knowledge base, will judge the reliability, correctness, and value of the source and its embedded information. Referred to as information currency by Li and Suh (2015), the greater the transparency of these elements, the more likely the source will be embraced as one of authority for producing and sharing such information. The problem here is that if the news being offered is alluring through the gospel of its online rhetoric, regardless if it is distortion, such information has the power of augmenting its audience through viral adoption. And this, in turn, leads to an Internet information source becoming both credible and authoritative based upon the size and fidelity of its followership, regardless of the information is authentic, embellished, or highly questionable.
Selectivity. Beyond the effort of measuring information for credibility and authority conducted by people scouring the Internet, what precedes both these criteria happens to fall under the selection process. And as shared through research by Li and Suh (2015), choosing a source seems to be influenced by the visual ergonomics of how that information is presented to its audience. Those sources outfitted with stellar creative teams—featuring seasoned web application developers and skilled user experience designers—tend to attract a larger audience to their sites. Moreover, those sources that have already gained significant followership—often in the millions of dedicated subscribers—create a fervor for alluring even more people to their family audience. Such factors of influence have been known to eliminate the question of both credibility and authority for information as the blind acceptance to embrace the source has already been won through the selection process (Li & Suh, 2015). With enough financial capital accumulated from both e-commerce and advertising, such sources are able to affect their search engine optimization and marketing with first page results which advocates their authority as a reliable source of information; and this kind of search engine placement impacts user selectivity. Whether information being presented captivates people through the use of attractive technology or cultivates a forum of interactivity inviting readers to participate in news sharing, such methods directly impact the success of building a follower base through leveraging social media reputation.
In summary, research and analysis have demonstrated that the virtual community of people journeying through the Internet in search of news desire sources that appeal to their behaviors, lifestyles, and personalities. And with creative skills in both web design and communications, along with the boldness of offering brow-raising information to the global community, online sources of news and information are well-positioned to leverage their digital marketing prowess to beguile any audience to embrace their gospel. And in the absence of governance to appraise the credibility of such sites, these sources have the lateral of preaching tainted information to an influential audience while becoming an acute danger to what is true and honest news.
Dominick, J. R. (2013). The dynamics of mass communication: media in transition (12th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.
Li, R., & Suh, A. (2015). Factors influencing information credibility on social media platforms: evidence from facebook pages. Procedia Computer Science, 72, 314–328. doi: 10.1016/j.procs.2015.12.146
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