Identifying an online comment coming from an expert can increase the credibility of a news article, a new study found. Ivanka Pjesivac of the University of Georgia, Nicholas Geidner of the University of Tennessee and Jaclyn Cameron, examined the effects of source expertise and opinion valence in reader’s comments on the credibility of a news story.
196 students read an online article about genetically modified organisms (GMOs), with differing comments (positive vs. negative) and commenters (expert vs. nonexpert).
The results show that individuals who saw comments from professional sources would judge the article as more credible than individuals who saw comments from Twitter-based sources. When seeing a regular Twitter user’s comment, especially high-frequency news users evaluated the news article as less credible.
Whether the comment was positive or negative did not change how credible people saw the article. Even if people had an existing opinion about GMOs that conflicted with the comment in question, it did not affect their evaluation of the article, the authors find.
The study suggest that people mainly use peripheral or heuristic route (instead of central route) of information processing when assessing information online. They used source expertise as a mental shortcut to evaluate the credibility of online news, the researchers explain. The study supports some news organizations’ decisions to integrate identifiable comments in online articles, especially when the perspectives come from professional experts.
The article “Social credibility online” was published in Newspaper Research Journal and is available on the publisher’s website (abstract free).
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