“It appears that journalism’s trustworthiness will more likely suffer than benefit from an increased use of UGC”, write Katherine M. Grosser and Florian Wintterlin, both of University of Münster, with Valerie Hase, of University of Zurich (names not in original order). The authors conducted an online experiment with 487 Germans, exposing the participants to articles with different levels and presentations of user generated content (UGC).
In total, the authors set up 10 different experimental conditions. First, the participants were exposed to either a “political” or “human interest” topic. Second, the stories either incorporated user generated content or not. Third, stories with UGC referred to it either visually (screenshots of Twitter messages) or verbally (reference to information found on Twitter). Finally, the UGC information was either presented as verified or unverified.
The use of UGC decreased the perceived trustworthiness of the news article even when the participants’ personal qualities were accounted for (e.g. propensity to trust, level of education). Verification did ameliorate this issue, but only slightly and only with regard to political news. Furthermore, less than half (42.9 per cent) of respondents noticed the verification when it was employed.
The trustworthiness-eroding effect of UGC is not very dramatic, the authors note. Still, user generated content improves none of the five sub-factors that make up trustworthiness, making it a bad choice in almost all situations. Thus, journalists should be cautious to use UGC – and never without verification, Grosser, Hase and Wintterlin recommend.
The article “Trustworthy or Shady?” was published by the journal Journalism Studies. It is available online on the publisher’s website (abstract free).
Picture: Untitled by Rachel Scott, licence CC0 1.0.