Truth or Falsehood: Trust, Credibility and Authority Online

The issue of the last post was the Ice Bucket Challenge, which produced a huge resonance in the audience. As I was dealing with this topic, I came across one article, which let me now think about one of the issues of our „Online and Mobile Media“ course. The title of the article is “ANOTHER Teen Tragically DIES After Breaking Her Neck From Ice Bucket Challenge“. It is may be difficult to say at first sight, if we deal here with news about real happenings or with a fake, but already in the first moment the reader of this article probably become suspicious that there could be something wrong with it. Can we really trust this article?

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As we observe it more detailed our suspicion will probably become more established. Firstly, the way, how the title of the article is written indicates that the article is probably not trustworthy. The fact that words “ANOTHER” and “DIES” are written in capital letters let us ask ourselves, if a serious journalist / author would try to attract people’s attention by emphasizing the scandalous character of the topic. Bad quality of the pictures, ad banner, that interrupt the text, the absence of the references – all this details are the indicators for the unserious character of the source of information.

In summery, we can say that there are several factors, that contribute to that online sources of information such as blogs or online newspapers win or lose trust of user. The blogs, for example, can win the trust of the audience, through the transparency. If the reader recognise that the information of the blogger comes from serious trustworthy sources, it would establish a trust basis and the credibility of the blog would increase when this transparency becomes a constant component. Furthermore, as we saw in the example of the Ice Bucket Challenge article, other factors as the design of the blog, the writing style and other details such as typefaces, pictures etc. contribute to the degree of trust. Another important factor in establishing credibility of the online news sources could be, for example, the authority of the newspaper, so the influence of ownership on online news sites plays also a great role in process of building trust. To sum up, trust is not just a thing that is either given or not. It is a process, which composes of multiple components over time. Firstly, regarding trust as a process, we can say that there can be different degrees or levels of trust. Secondly, as credibility is formed depending on several factors, an online information source can build a facade of credibility and unfortunately this facade can be sometimes used to spread false information.

Let’s take a look at one interesting example of how easily a news information source that provides false information, could be mistaken for a serious one. On the 9th of July 2014 the Russian state news channel Russia-24 («Россия-24») published an article (a reportage on this topic was also broadcasted) about a German bar owner, who went bankrupt providing free schnaps for all guests for each goal during the soccer match Germany-Brasilia during the world cup 2014 (Gremany won 7:1). The story appears as a real sensation, if we don’t take into account the fact, that it is a fake. The mass media channel Russia-24 is a well-established mass media channel with big authority. As any news source, that wants to build trust of the audience, it provides the source of the information. The information source of this article was “Der Postillon“, a German website “featuring satirical articles reporting on international, national, and local news“. The quotation of the Wikipedia article is to demonstrate, that there is no deep research needed to figure out that this is a made-up story. After that some questions arises: Did Russia-24 make a mistake and didn’t verify the source? Der Postillon is very popular in Germany and regarding the design and the quality of the website, it could be easily taken for a serious news website, if one don’t know that it is a satire-journal.

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So, was “der Postillon” website as inspiring confidence, that the journalist did not bother to double-check the source? Or was the „sensational“ character of the story more important in this case and the article was published (and the reportage broadcasted) though the redaction had known that it is a „fake“ story? Probably not a high percentage of the Russian audience knows that “der Postillon” is a satire-journal as well as no one will not check the source because of the high credibility of Russia-24.

The example of the der Postillons’s article is not the only example how the facade of credibility can be build and how false information can be spreader (intentionally or not). Therefore it is important to question the information source, because in the worst case the abuse of trust can become a tool of propaganda.


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