A statement released by the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism says “generally suspicious” audiences are mostly indifferent to the news they encounter on digital platforms such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Google. “Their distrust of news was often rooted in deeply held beliefs that the news media was biased, manipulative and even corrupt,” the report said.
The report – titled Snap judgements: how audiences who lack trust in news navigate information on digital platforms – was published on Monday as part of the Trust in News project undertaken by the Reuters Institute with support from the Facebook Journalism Project.
Using a qualitative analysis of 100 interviews in Brazil, India, the United States and the United Kingdom, the report focuses on people who “were grossly lacking in trust in most news sources of their country as well as of interest in political affairs”. The surveys were carried out by two independent companies – Inteligência em Pesquisa e Consultoria in Brazil and Internet Research Bureau in India, the United Kingdom and the United States.
The study suggests that users’ encounters with news were experienced as “an imposition or an annoyance” in the UK, US and India. “Obviously it’s irritating sometimes because the reason I use Facebook is only for friends and family,” said Ramesh, a respondent from India.
However, when it comes to consuming information, the study claims that user behavior differs across platforms.
“If this should be true, I will receive a message via WhatsApp”
When it comes to Facebook, the study suggests that trustworthiness was related to what friends, family and acquaintances found relevant. Other than that, many respondents paid attention to specific Facebook features such as comments, shares, and likes, especially when it came to identifying fake news.
According to the study, this is especially true for India and Brazil. “[The] the most important thing i watch [is] comments. In this, people would say, “I’ve been through this website before, and it’s a fake,” says Neha, one of the interviewees in India.
For others, the blue tick did the trick. “For these participants, the verification label itself meant the source was more trusted,” the study says, referring to respondents in India and the UK.
Similar to Facebook, users look to their contacts to make sense of the information they encounter on WhatsApp. In fact, the study suggests that, in some cases, users trust the information they get on WhatsApp more than news outlets. “I don’t trust newspapers or news channels on this. If true, I will receive a message via WhatsApp,” Shashi said.
This matches the findings of another Reuters published in September 2021 which said 82% of Indian respondents were likely to use messaging apps as a source of news, compared to just 30% in the United States.
In terms of content, the study highlights the wide range of message formats in Brazil and India, including videos, audios, images, links and PDFs. However, the study adds, “This information may be particularly difficult to cross-check or verify when it lacks links to external sources…it may also leave users more likely to believe misinformation, particularly those who lack the skill set necessary to assess and interrogate this.”
On Google, the study says people view Google’s content ranking as an “important indicator of quality” and believe the browser gives users the “trusted source” first. Therefore, users prefer the first results. This has been confirmed by users from the United States and India.
In Brazil and India, Google is apparently considered a reliable source of information. The study attributes this favorable perception to the fact that it allows people to compare information easily, across multiple sources of information.
People use Google to also investigate questionable news sources they have come across on different platforms. Interestingly, one of the interviewees in India, Pranav, said: “If you want to check anything, you can easily do it – but you can’t do it on a news channel or in some media. printed.”
The catchier the title, the less trustworthy it is
When it comes to making judgments, the study categorizes five broad areas in which users rate the “reliability” of information. These include brand awareness and reputation; social cues; language and tone; visual and informative cues and advertising.
Preference for familiar brands and recommendations from family and friends can be seen as explicit “shortcuts” that people can use to judge information. Indeed, the study suggests that even “wary” users place some trust in the brands they know and the information shared by their networks.
However, in the context of news organizations, the study places some responsibility on content.
Regarding the language and tone used, the study suggests that some users have let their guard down regarding sensationalism, click bait and political bias. This, the study added, occurred “particularly when encountering specific news outlets about which they had pre-existing attitudes.”
In all countries surveyed, users said the more catchy a headline was, the less trustworthy they found it. Apart from that, such headlines, according to the study, raised suspicions about the accuracy of the news and “the intentions behind the news, whether driven by a political or commercial agenda or both.”
Similarly, the study indicates that the use of images is an “important indicator” of the credibility of the information. “Many inferred from the images whether or not news outlets had directly witnessed the things they were reporting on,” the study said.
Highlighting the role of advertising, the study claims that sponsored posts, messages or search results played a role in respondents’ trust in the content. “More often than not, people viewed advertising as something to be overlooked or overlooked… Sponsored posts were often seen as inherently suspect, given that they were viewed as profit-driven, rather than presented for their reliability or their relevance,” the study says.
“Reaching these audiences [untrusting] may require more sustained and consistent efforts around branding and closer attention to the precise ways in which stories are exhibited in digital spaces,” the study says.