AR: […] why war opponents perceived the internet as the most credible medium

The authors: Junho H. Choi, James H. Watt and Michael Lynch; the publisher: JCMC, the full title: “Perceptions of News Credibility about the War in Iraq: Why War Opponents Perceived the Internet as the Most Credible Medium”.

Choi, Watt and Lynch surveyed how bearers of different opinions about the Iraq war (“supporters,” “neutrals” and “opponents”) perceived various media’s credibility. Apparently, those opposing the war relied more heavily on the internet to gather news than war supporters and neutrals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, opponents also saw that the internet – in general – questioned the war-supporting attitude of mainstream, conventional media. War opponents also rated the internet more credible than did war supporters and neutrals.

In other words,

the internet was viewed as an alternative channel by those who could not otherwise get news or information from traditional media that accorded with their political attitudes towards the war in Iraq.

The authors also tried to explore the notion of credibility – and what it could mean in online settings. Participants of the survey were asked to rank various media types according to their perceived credibility, and also to define what “credibility” means for them. I think this is the most interesting part of the study.

Those who thought the internet was more credible than TV, radio and conventional newspapers, cited most often the reason that the ‘net provides “acces to many sources of information”. In contrast, the dominant reason for choosing TV as the most credible was the “feeling of seeing events live and directly”, while those who considered magazines and newspapers to be most credible said this was because they “had time for analysis of information” (which the others lacked).

Three points, then.

First – this is probably obvious, but nevertheless I feel important to stress, if only for myself: the perception of credibility depends – at least partly – on the attitudes of the media consumer towards the contents of various media organs. The “hostile media environment theory” describes how highly engaged audiences (partisan groups) perceive neutral reports as biased against their views, IF these reports are perceived as having a broad-reach capacity. “Obviously”, one could say, “the mainstream media is biased!” – so let’s turn to the internet where any partisan group can find news and reports that suit their attitudes. (Or supposedly neutral reports in which case the assimilation bias effect can spring into life.)

Second – for the abovementioned reason, I wonder how useful it actually is to know that the internet is perceived as credible mostly because it seen as offering multiple sources of information. What I mean is this.

Credibility could be established on the grounds that a report presents multiple, probably conflicting views. If a single report attempts to present events from the point of view of all the interested parties, the attempt to avoid promoting ideologies could be appreciated by readers and render the report credible.

But on the other hand, “multiple sources of information” does not necessarily mean this. It might simply mean that all sorts of views are represented in different reports, without any kind of effort to reconcile various viewpoints, or to check them against each other. Pick whichever view you like, but don’t expect any of them to try to include multiple points of view. This leads to the

third point – I think the general categories of “internet,” “TV,” “radio,” “newspapers” and “magazines” are somewhat muddy. How does preference for one of these categories correlate with preference for a certain media organ within that category? If you think TV is the most credible, do you have Fox News, CNN, or Comedy Central in mind? If you think radio is more credible than TV, would you say Rush Limbaugh is more credible than Keith Olbermann, or the other way round?

(It’s horribly early in the morning here, I still I hope I’m getting this point across here.)

I think dealing with general categories like that means losing focus – especially since online tools today more and more enable online news reports to incorporate those elements of TV and newspapers that, apparently, render these latter credible (videos + long, in-depth analysis). It is important to know that definitions of credibility differ according to perception, and that the ‘net is thought to be credible because of multiple points of info, but it would be good to know what kind of “internet” respondents had in mind when they provided their answers.

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2 Responses to AR: […] why war opponents perceived the internet as the most credible medium

  1. Luigi says:

    Ciao Andras!

    I think the question is much simpler, in fact the study mentioned above is about a perception, and therefore it does not pretend to reveal the truth about the credibility of a medium or another. Credibility, as such, depends on the audience and not on the medium itself. I would rather speak about legitimacy, reliability or something similar.

    Internet is not content, it is a medium for a content, naturally of a different kind in respect to older media such as TV, Radio and Newspapers. The credibility of the information transmitted through the internet (not the credibility of the internet, as you also asses) also depends, only partly of course, on its possibility of expressing multiple point of views, even if separated from each other and being not integrated in a whole. The reason is the same as the reason which lies behind the concept of democracy which is necessarily based on the concept of alternative ideas and alternative governments (even actual everyday happenings and facts, once they have happened and are then transcribed on a public sphere -becoming narrative- are not the same thing anymore and are subjected to an interpretation that we all need -what are we living for otherwise ;) – ).

    However, one more important point I want to raise here. Concerning credibility, the main difference between older media and the internet is the level of control that can be exerted on them. Internet, as such, is free while tvs, radios and newspapers always are controlled by an editor. The only control on the internet is exerted by Google and fortunately it is only partial and can be avoided easily. The main problem in this case is the material access to the ‘matrix’, often limited by infrastructures, or level of income of the individual.

    >Apparently, those opposing the war relied more heavily on the internet to gather news than war supporters and neutrals. Perhaps unsurprisingly, opponents also saw that the internet – in general – questioned the war-supporting attitude of mainstream, conventional media.

    The question here is: did they check the internet and understood war is bad, or did they first think war was bad and checked the internet to support their ideas? It’s not surprising that war opposers think the internet has got more credibility, especially in a place where war is reality and therefore, supposedly, government supports its actions through conventional and controllable media. Total control of the internet is impossible.

    Finally one more thing about your first point: a neutral point of view can be perceived as biased against any view, however neutrality does not exist. The reason is easy: reality is very complex and once it becomes narrative (as I said earlier) not all the causes and consequences of a fact can be mentioned (do you remember the bounded rationality ;)? ) and choosing what to mention and what to say, necessarily depends on a subjective decision, therefore on a point of view. What I say is everything we say is the result of a point of view, may be moral or normative or whatever other kind.

    In the end you say that it is not useful to deal with categories such as Tv, Internet etc…, However, even though “online tools today more and more enable online news reports to incorporate those elements of TV and newspapers that, apparently, render these latter credible (videos + long, in-depth analysis)”. I still think the fruition of the medium internet (this time the whole internet), despite that of Tv, radio or newspapers, is characterized by a peculiarity which justifies the categorization. It is, in fact, fragmentized, namely we constantly get small pieces of information at a very high speed (short videos, articles or others, jumping from a link to another -beauty of hypertext- and so on).

    Also, believe me, internet is much more reliable than other media, especially in countries where freedom of speech is at stake. I know what I am talking about, since I am from a country where the Prime Minister is controlling (politically, being prime minister, Italian law…) three public channels, owning other three (one of which was declared illegitimate by the European Court and which costs to Italian public 350.000e a day of fine to the European Commission), and is owning most of the newspapers (the Mondadori Editions was bought years ago with the corruption of the judge who had to approve the purchase, crime proved but not punished thank to one of the so called ad peronam law, passed and written by the one who had to be judged).

    I could tell you then about a political movement which was born on the internet and bases its knowledge on blogs and similar, but I have long enough already.

    Just remember that Italy is one of the most dynamic countries in the world and that if something happens in Europe (political trend or other), it has already happened earlier in Italy.

    I know it was long, I am sorry ;)

  2. a. says:

    Hei Luigi! Bounded rationality, how could I forget? ^^

    Thanks for the comment. Some interesting points!

    About the internet (as such) – I guess you’re right about the peculiarities of the net that characterize it as something essentially different to TV, radio or newspapers – when it comes how people actually use it, and how the mode of use affects the information that is gained. Or how the mode of use affects the mode of use of other media (e.g. how regularly watching YouTube affects TV viewing habits, or vice versa).

    But when looking at the problem of credibility, unless you focus explicitly on how the practice of using the ‘net affects the information you get, I really think it’s misleading to talk of the internet (or TV, radio, or newspapers) in general. (Or “the Internet”; this capitalization is some kind of fossil from the past century.) True, the net offers ways to tackle censorship or any kind of official control. So there is a potential, and then various websites will help this potential manifest itself in various degrees; and, using various editorial regimes of control (from total freedom to a rigorous checking of facts and following certain ethical guidelines) they will publish information that will have, in the eyes of the audience, variable credibility. I wouldn’t generalize any further.

    About the connection between attitudes and reading habits – this is a very good point! I have – as have the authors of the article – taken for granted that the attitude (opposing or supporting the war) affected the choice of media, but surely the relationship works in both ways.

    And about the lack of neutrality – that’s a good point too. There are no neutral viewpoints. What I meant in the first point was, referring to the “assimilation bias effect”, that reports that pose to be neutral, or are inconclusive, might be perceived as supporting any kind of opinion. There’s the latest casualty list – that high?, could say one side, that low? could say the other. (And surely the choice of topic and the fact that someone actually wrote the report points to an embedded, underlying value system.)

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