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The current generation is arguably the most informed because of the Internet. The internet has made information accessible to most people on a previously unprecedented scale. This prevalence of internet use is confirmed by Lankes (2007) who reported that majority of the adults in developed countries regularly used the internet in 2007.
This figure can only be expected to have increased as internet connectivity has risen significantly in the past 5 years. Many people today make use of the internet to obtain information on a wide range of issues.
Bates et al. (2006) observes that because of the perceived openness and democratic nature of the internet, most people view it as a trustworthy source of information.
This is in spite of the fact that creating and maintaining a website requires only rudimentary skills and people post information that is unverified or at times out rightly false. An experiment by the Swedish production company Day4 illustrated how easily people believe what they read online.
This paper will analyze the claim that people believe anything they find online with specific reference to the online Apple hoax initiated by the Stockholm production company Day4.
Indicators that People Believe the Internet
The great reliance on the media as the leading source of information for many people demonstrates a perception of its credibility. Stavrositu and Sundar (2008) acknowledge that the reliance on any medium by the population is normally an indicator of a perceived trust in it by the audience.
As more people look for and obtain relevant information from the internet, their perception of its credibility increases. This causes some people to believe that all the information provided therein is true just because some of it has proved to be true in the past.
The relationship between the internet and traditional media also increases the level of trust people have in this medium. In the provision of news, the internet normally functions as a supplement to traditional media use rather than a substitute for it.
This increases the perceived credibility of the internet since people view it as an extension of the traditional media that they have grown to trust and rely on (Greer 2003).
The Age (2012) demonstrates this by noting how the dubious rumours about Apple were accepted by the internet community once they were reported by journalists with connections to mainstream media.
Another indicator that people believe anything they find online is the fact that many only make use of a single website for their information needs on a topic. They do not seek out other sources of similar information to compare the views expressed since they believe that one webpage is as good as any other.
Bates, et al. (2006) reveals that with regard to internet-based health information, significant differences in the perceptions of the quality of health information would be developed if a person looked at different sources.
In the Apple hoax issue, many users obtained the information from one site and proceeded to share it with their friend without verifying with other websites.
The last decade has witnessed a dramatic increase in the number of people who rely on the internet for their news and informational needs. Most of these users regard the internet as a credible source and they act and react according to the information they obtain from this source (Johnson & Kaye 2008).
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Research indicates that in addition to online mainstream news sites, other sites such as blogs and bulletin boards have emerged as influential forums for discussions on different topics. The believability of the information contained in these sites is high especially when they are issue oriented.
Johnson and Kaye (2008) document that during elections, people demonstrated a high tendency to believe information that they found in campaign websites. This believability could be attributed to the greater depth that the sites gave to the campaign issues when compared to traditional media.
Different class of internet users also demonstrate differing trust levels for internet sources. Stavrositu and Sundar (2008) elaborates that information seekers on the internet are more adept at differentiating credible information from the non-credible sources.
On the other hand, entertainment seekers do not consider the credibility of the sources and take each source at face value. This might be because the value of entertainment information is not tied to its reliability, but rather its contribution to amusement.
Millions of users rely on the internet for entertainment purposes and this class of users are unlikely to be concerned about the credibility of the media.
The popularity of the website influences the perceived credibility of the information provided therein. Bates et al. (2006) notes that most users do not invest significant time and effort in seeking out high-quality information on the internet.
Instead, they make use of search engines and select the most popular sites, which appear on the top of the list. Young people are especially susceptible to believing anything they find on the internet. Many individuals in this group lack the expertise to verify what they find and they therefore regard the obtained information as true and reliable.
The availability of all kinds of information on the internet leads the young users to believe that the internet is an unquestionable repository of good information.
Flanagin and Miriam (2010) assert that the perceived credibility of online information is at times determined by the age of the user with older users having low perceptions of credibility for material that was not expert-generated.
Why Caution Should be Exercised
The reliance on information attained online by many users raises concern since many internet sources are unreliable. The ease with which information can be provided is one of the reasons behind unreliable information being available online.
Metzger (2007) explains that the internet significantly lowers the cost of producing and disseminating information, which means that people with limited authority on a subject can provide information.
This is unlike in the traditional media whose cost limited the providers to only those with authority and enough money to deliver information products to the masses.
The internet has vast amounts of useful information that can be turned into intelligence by the user. At the same time, it has a lot of dubious information that is false and misleading. Trusting the internet fully will therefore lead to cases of misinformation.
The ability of the users to evaluate the credibility of the source of a website is vital to ensuring that they access high-quality information. The lack of gate keeping on the internet should motivate people to be more vigilant and selective in the information sources they obtain from the internet.
The similarity in format of all the information provided online also increases the credibility attributed to the material by the users. Ivory and Rodrick (2005) elaborate that the similarity in format creates a “levelling effect” that makes the user perceive all kinds of information available as credible.
Uniformity should not be used as a gauge of credibility. Instead, users should look at the authority of the source when judging if the information provided is credible.
Unlike with traditional media, Metzger (2007) points out that websites “operate without much oversight or editorial review” (p.2078). The authority of the author or even his identity are not prerequisites to publishing and in most cases, experts do not vet the information provided.
The information published might not be substantiated by the relevant authority, as was the case in the Apple Hoax where the authority (apple) was not contacted to comment on the issue at hand.
With the increased use of the internet, people develop online-efficacy and they are likely to exhibit apprehension about the information they believe. Stavrositu and Sundar (2008) document that in the past few years, internet users are increasingly indulging in content verification.
Such an approach when dealing with online information is helpful since it decreases the changes of a person believing information provided by a source that is not an authority on the subject.
This paper set out to analyze the claim that people believe anything they find online. To this end, it has demonstrated that most internet users do not question the credibility of the information they get online.
The perception that all information provided over the internet is of equal value has been the greatest course of the unquestioning believe in internet information by many. Even so, the paper has pointed out that not all users unquestionably believe in everything they obtain from the internet.
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The Age 2012, Apple gets screwed by online hoax, <https://www.theage.com.au/technology/apple-gets-screwed-by-online-hoax-20120816-249v1.html>.