PhD thesis: Trust in Online Information

On March 1, 2013, I will defend my PhD thesis. Below, you’ll find the short abstract.

Omslag ProefschriftThe introduction of the Internet has made it very easy to gain information on any topic imaginable. The downside of this development is that it has become much harder to evaluate the credibility of this information, as it is often unclear who the author is. In this dissertation, the way Internet users evaluate the credibility of online information is studied, with a focus on the relationship between user characteristics and information features. The online encyclopedia Wikipedia is used as a case study.

In the newly developed 3S-model of information trust, three evaluation strategies are defined. Primarily, the user may want to consider semantic features of the information (e.g., factual accuracy). However, this requires a level of domain expertise on the topic at hand. Alternatively, the user may look at surface features (i.e., the way the information is presented). While this strategy does not require domain expertise, more generic information skills are needed, since the user needs to know how certain information features are related to credibility. Finally, the user may consider the source of the information; this requires prior experiences with this source.

Multiple studies have provided validation for each of the strategies defined in the 3S-model. The model was placed in a broader perspective by also considering trust in a medium (as a collection of similar sources, such as websites), and a general propensity to trust.

The models not only provide insight into how credibility is evaluated, they also demonstrate many situations in which people have difficulties with this task. A potential solution for these problems is to provide users with a decision support system. In the second part of this dissertation, the application of such systems was studied. The choice between a user-based or a fully automated system was considered, as well as the choice between a simple (but understandable) or complex (but hard to understand) system. Moreover, the relationship between the strategies of the 3S-model and decision support was investigated.

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