A little bird told me. so I didn`t believe it: Twitter. credibility.

and issue perceptions
Abstract: We investigate how media use oI the microblogging tool Twitter aIIects perhaps oI the
issue covered and the credibility oI the inIormation. In contrast to prior studies showing that
ordinary blogs are oIten iudged credible. especially by their users. data Irom two experiments
show that Twitter is considered less credible than various Iorms oI stories posted on a newspaper
Web site or even on an anonymous blog.
Mike Schmierbach Pennsylvania State University
Anne OeldorI-Hirsch Pennsylvania State University
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
In the last decade individuals have increasingly turned to the Internet as their primary
source oI inIormation. including the news. A report by the Pew Research Center (2008) indicates
that Irom 1994 to 2008 reading the news online (at least three days a week) increased Irom 2° to
37°. One question that arises Irom this increase in reading news online is what sources
individuals are using to get their news and how they are determining the credibility oI these
sources. Individuals are still trying to make sense oI Internet inIormation. and the situation is
growing ever-complex with the constant increase in user-generated content. Individuals can now
share a wealth oI content on social media websites and applications such as Facebook. YouTube.
MySpace. Twitter. and more.
In today`s media landscape. where inIormation is constantly redistributed. identiIying the
original source oI that inIormation is an increasingly diIIicult task. In Iact. the source oI the
message may be whatever the user perceives it to be. Furthermore. sources on the Internet may
also be layered such that inIormation is presented not only by one source. but re-distributed a
number oI times by what is called a selecting source. or those perceived as the gatekeepers oI
inIormation. Upon reading a Iriend`s tweet about Time Magazine`s summary oI new research at
a large US university. the receiver could say they heard the news Irom their Iriend. Irom twitter.
Irom Time. Irom the university. or even iust 'on the Internet.¨ The importance oI these source
variations lies in how they aIIect assessment oI the inIormation. Depending on the visible
selecting source. the same inIormation could take on diIIerent meanings or be perceived in more
or less credible ways.
In the current study we assess how the same news story distributed by various sources
can impact a reader`s opinion oI the content in terms oI credibility. issue importance. and interest
in learning more. The next section outlines a short history oI two maior inIormation-sharing tools
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
oI the increasingly user-driven Internet: blogs and microblogs. Following this is a review oI
recent literature that illustrates the complex Iindings regarding the assessment oI credibility oI
online inIormation.
User-Generated and User-Distributed Content
Two popular platIorms Ior user-driven content and inIormation dissemination that have
emerged in the last decade are blogging. and more recently. microblogging. While their technical
interIaces are similar and the sources oI inIormation can vary widely on either application. they
have each developed their own norms oI use. Blogs are more verbose. slower in their updates.
and generally Iocused on personal experiences. Microblogs are Iast. deliver quick messages. and
work well as news update services. Given the typical ways in which each technology has come
to be used. users may develop diIIerent expectations about the inIormation derived Irom each
and thus assess the same inIormation diIIerently based on its technological source.
Blogs have been deIined collectively as personal websites which are regularly updated
and contain archived dated entries in reverse chronological order which contain primarily text.
but may also contain photos or other multimedia. and usually allow Ior audience comments
(Herring. Scheidt. Bonus. & Wright. 2004. January; Herring. Scheidt. Wright. & Bonus. 2005;
Nardi. Schiano. & Gumbrecht. 2004. November). Blogs grew out oI personal homepages that
individuals maintained in order to have a presence on the Internet. These sites were relatively
static. but would sometimes include regularly updated iournals.
Krishnamurthy (2002) proposed that blogs are oI Iour basic types. along two dimensions:
personal versus topical. and individual versus community. More simply. Blood (2002. as cited in
Herring. et al.. 2004. January) categorizes blogs as personal iournals. which typically contain
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
personal inIormation about the poster; Iilter blogs. which oIIer inIormation external to the poster.
such as links to other content; or notebooks. which typically include both types oI content and
are written in longer essay Iorm. OI interest in the current study are Iilter blogs. which post
content Irom other sources in order to distribute it among their readers.
Nardi. Shiano. Gumbrecht and Schwartz (2004) Iound that individuals maintained blogs
Ior the Iollowing reasons: documenting liIe. providing commentary and opinions. expressing
deeply Ielt emotions. articulating ideas through writing. and Iorming/maintaining community
Iorums. However. at about the same time the main motivations Ior reading blogs were:
inIormation seeking and media check. convenience. personal IulIillment. political surveillance.
social surveillance. and expression and aIIiliation (Kaye. 2005). Compared to blog authors`
needs Ior selI-expression. relationships. and similar interpersonal Iactors; blog readers were
overall more interested in gathering inIormation. While many bloggers do leverage their network
to disseminate inIormation about politics and other current topics. the most popular topic Ior
blogs continues to be the author`s personal liIe (Lu. 2009). The norm Ior the medium oI blogging
may iust be more personal than other Iorms oI media sharing. This could have potential impacts
on the credibility attached to news content that is posted on blogs. as only a relatively small
percentage are Iilter blogs (Lu).
Microblogging is the sleeker evolution oI blogging. 'a Iorm oI multimedia blogging that
allows users to send brieI text updates or micromedia such as photos or audio clips and publish
them |online|¨ ("Micro-blogging." n.d.). The technology is a hybrid oI blogging and instant
messaging; updates Iorm a Ieed. similar to a blog. and there is the possibility Ior quick
interaction with other users who can reply to or re-post others` updates. There exist at least 200
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
microblogging sites ("The twitter-clone/twitter-like sites collection." 2007). which vary slightly
in speciIic Ieatures. but the most popular service is Twitter (http://www.twitter.com). a site that
allows users 140 characters to send tweets to their followers. Users can enter text and shortened
URLS that lead to pictures or other websites using the Twitter homepage. their mobile phone. or
one oI over 100 microblogging applications that show up on their desktop. their browser. or
other websites. Other users can then choose to 'Iollow¨ this user. meaning that they receive all oI
that person`s updates in an ongoing Ieed on their Twitter homepage.
A key element is that this service is oIten integrated with mobile phones such that users
can post Irom anywhere. and their updates can be sent to their Iriends` phones. as though they
were personal messages. This makes the technology more conducive to instant updates about
current events than 'macro-blogging¨ had been. As oI December 2008. nineteen percent oI
Internet users ages 18-24. and twenty percent oI Internet users ages 25-34 said they used some
Iorm oI microblogging service that allowed them to share updates about themselves or see
others` updates (Lenhart. 2009. February 12). Many oI those users were already using the service
Ior the dissemination oI inIormation aside Irom personal content. An analysis oI Twitter posts
Iound that while daily chatter was common. news reporting and inIormation sharing are other
popular uses oI this and similar microblogging platIorms (Java. Song. Finin. and Tseng (2007).
Similarly. in a poll oI his blog readers. Odden (2008. May 15) Iound that the most popular use oI
Twitter is to share links to items oI interest to your network. Iollowed by related uses such as
promoting speciIic content. and re-distributing content Irom blogs or web sites.
Twitter emerged as a new type oI news source on January 15. 2009. when US Airways
Ilight 1549 crash-landed in the Hudson River in New York. BeIore any maior news outlet could
arrive at the scene. one oI the Iirst photos oI the plane in the river was posted on TwitPic by Janis
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
Krums. who tweeted. 'There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the Ierry going to pick up the
people. Crazy.¨ (ikrums. 2009). For many oI the 440.194 viewers oI this photo. this was the Iirst
report they received oI the event. long beIore any maior news outlet had such inIormation. From
this day Twitter gained credibility and a Iollowing as a news source. In Iact. later that year
Twitter reIocused its platIorm Irom inquiring 'What are you doing?¨ to 'What`s happening?¨ to
reIlect its shiIting Iocus Irom personal status updates to news sharing ((Biz. 2009). The creator
The Iundamentally open model oI Twitter created a new kind oI inIormation
network and it has long outgrown the concept oI personal status updates. Twitter
helps you share and discover what's happening now among all the things. people.
and events you care about. "What are you doing?" isn't the right question
In summary. these emerging technologies have shiIted the direct source oI news
Ior many people. both through the addition oI a new group oI news creators. but also
through the indirect dissemination oI mainstream news through channels such as blogs
and Twitter. The latter. in particular. has become an additional way Ior news content
producers to disseminate their product. In the next section. we consider whether
perceptions oI this news vary. In particular. we explore the potentially critical variable
oI perceived credibility.
Credibility Assessments
Judgments oI inIormation credibility are complex. particularly when the technology in
which this inIormation is distributed changes so rapidly. Previous research on how individuals
assess the credibility oI various Internet inIormation has shown mixed. and sometimes
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
contradictory. results. One maior Iactor to consider is the source oI the inIormation. but it seems
that this alone is not enough. Clearly there are a number oI cues in the inIormation. its source. its
context. and even individual diIIerences that drive perceptions oI credibility.
Flanagin and Metzger (2000) originally addressed the issue oI inIormation credibility on
the Internet with a large survey oI Internet users. They asked individuals how credible they
consider inIormation across diIIerent media and how likely they are to veriIy the inIormation
they Iind on the Internet. Generally. people Iound inIormation Irom the Internet to be as credible
as Irom most other sources. except Ior newspapers. However. experience with the medium also
made a signiIicant diIIerence: those who had more experience with the Internet generally Iound
it to be more credible than those who had less experience. This pattern may well hold true Ior
newer media technologies. such that those users still have the least experience with are also those
they Iind least credible. regardless oI the sources oI inIormation within the technology.
A maior Iactor in the credibility oI inIormation is. oI course. the source oI that
inIormation. Within in the Internet alone. there has been much research on how various types oI
sources aIIect the credibility oI the inIormation they present. For instance. Eastin (2001) Iound
that the expertise oI the source had a signiIicant eIIect on credibility oI health inIormation
regardless oI previous knowledge oI the topic. Participants rated the inIormation about HIV or
syphilis as signiIicantly more credible iI it stated to be written by a medical expert on that topic
rather than by a college Ireshman. This result is to be expected. but interestingly participants also
indicated greater credibility to the health topic with which they were Iamiliar. This indicates
again that personal experience. in this case with a topic rather than the medium. can have a
signiIicant eIIect on how inIormation is assessed.
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
In an experimental study similar to Eastin`s (2001). Hu and Sundar (2010) measure how
credible individuals iudge health inIormation when there are many layers oI sources. In an
experiment. participants saw an article about either sun screen or raw milk which also varied on
original sources (doctors vs. laypersons) and selecting sources. (web sites. bulletin boards. blogs.
personal home page. or simply the Internet). The results were complex. but neither original
source nor selecting source had a main eIIect on credibility. This indicates that even the source
oI the inIormation does not always provide a clear iudgment about the inIormation.
A very speciIic cue about a source is that person`s gender. which could certainly have an
inIluence on the reader. even iI only based on same- and opposite-gender source/reader
interactions. Armstrong and McAdams (2009) tested such a potential eIIect in a study in which
blog author`s gender was manipulated to appear male. Iemale. or indicate no gender at all.
Overall. posts by male bloggers were Iound to be more credible than posts by Iemale bloggers.
regardless oI readers` gender. but these eIIects were small. However. in assessing the eIIects oI
inIormation seeking. the authors Iound that high inIormation seekers rated blogs as more credible
than low inIormation seekers. indicating the importance oI motivation Ior useeven in an
experimental settingin iudging inIormation credibility.
Clearly. motivations Ior viewing inIormation play an important role in determining
perceptions oI inIormation credibility online. Johnson. Kaye. Bichard. and Wong (2008)
surveyed politically-interested Internet users on their perceptions oI political blog credibility.
InIormation seeking motivations and greater reliance on blogs led to higher perceptions oI
credibility oI the inIormation posted. Additionally. heavy blog users rated blogs as signiIicantly
more credible than light blog users did. This yet again shows that one`s experience with a
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
technology can have a signiIicant impact on the inIormation`s perceived credibility. regardless oI
source or content.
These studies reveal that several Iactors can inIluence perceptions oI credibility.
including the medium itselI. the alleged author oI the inIormation. experience with the medium.
experience with the topic. prior interest in the topic. inIormation seeking motivations. and even
individual diIIerences such as gender. These results highlight how complex credibility
assessments can be. but there are also some general patterns. mainly in terms oI Iactors
preceding the content that participants are evaluating. Repeatedly. previous experience with the
technology was a signiIicant predictor oI credibility ratings. Other personal Iactors such as
gender and technology use motivations also played a key role in credibility assessments. Thus. in
many cases individuals may rely on pre-existing iudgments to assess the credibility oI
inIormation. regardless oI its source or content. This may be especially true when encountering a
newer medium.
In general. this research suggests that Ior some types oI users. blogs are seen as being as
or even more credible than online news sources. But this research potentially omits some
important issues necessary to understand how Twitter speciIically might be viewed. First. blogs
may present news. but they may also simply link to news gathered by others. In many studies.
it`s not clear iI the blog creator is seen as the reporter oI the news or iust the person sharing it. II
the latter. then the 'value added¨ Irom the blogger`s commentary may be part oI what`s shaping
the impression. Unlike a typical blog. where readers can Iind commentary and ongoing
discussion. a single tweet oIIers no such depth. In addition. while Twitter posts may involve 're-
tweeting¨ inIormation posted by news organizations. the organizations themselves may directly
circulate inIormation through Twitter. As yet. little iI any research explores this particular
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
circumstance. Twitter posts probably strip content oI most oI its depth. They also remove the
content Irom the context oI a news site. where the general markers oI importance like the name
oI the publication. the Iormatting. and the presence oI other news could all act to reinIorce the
credibility oI that content. To explore both oI these possibilities. we Iirst evaluate whether the
Twitter post oI a story Irom a mainstream news organization would be perceived diIIerently than
either a similarly brieI version oI the story (where the cues would be present but the depth oI
inIormation absent) or a somewhat longer version oI that same story. We expect that the Twitter
version will appear less credible. as expressed in the Iollowing hypothesis:
H1: Individuals will perceive content as less credible when presented as a Twitter post by
a news organization than as a story posted on the organization`s Web site.
By itselI. credibility is a noteworthy outcome. II media organizations are undercutting
their credibility through the use oI something like Twitter. it could hasten the decline in
mainstream news audiences. But in this study we go beyond credibility to consider two
additional outcome variables: perceived importance and inIormation-seeking intention. In
general. the credibility oI a source deIined in part as a signal that the inIormation it conveys is
both trustworthy and meaningIul. Thus. iI the Twitter posting reduces credibility. it would also
reduce perceived importance. In addition. by including less inIormation. the Twitter post and the
shorter story would also rob individuals oI the context needed to determine that a story was
important. A lengthy story could also be a heuristic showing the importance oI the issue as
demonstrated in Graber`s (1988) study showing that individuals use length as one Iactor in
deciding which news stories are important. Overall. this leads to the Iollowing hypothesis:
H2: Individuals will perceive content as more important when presented as a longer story
than either as a short story or a Twitter post by a news organization.
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
Ultimately. one oI the reasons news organizations use Twitter is to try to increase
readership. The hope. presumably. is that potential readers will be intrigued by the brieI headline
and click the accompanying link to learn more. pushing up the number oI visitors to the
organization`s site. Certainly this seems like a logical prospect. By limiting inIormation. such
brieI Tweets might increase uncertainty. Uncertainty reduction theory (Berger & Calabrese.
1975; Sept. Hildebrand. & Wexler. 1992) proposes that individuals will seek to resolve the
anxiety and discomIort caused by this uncertainty by seeking inIormation. and some research on
media suggests at least limited circumstances in which this might occur (Boyle. Schmierbach.
Armstrong. McLeod. Shah. & Pan. 2004; Kubey & Peluso. 1990). On the other hand. iI
credibility or importance are seen as lower Ior the Twitter condition. this would probably make
people less interested in pursuing the story Iurther. particularly through the same news source.
Ultimately. the current literature simply isn`t suIIicient to make a clear prediction. but potential
changes in inIormation seeking as a result oI Twitter exposure are important. as we explore in
the Iollowing research question:
RQ1: How will intended inIormation seeking aIter exposure to a Twitter post diIIer
compared with exposure to a version oI the story on the news organization Web site?
Study 1 - method
Participants were recruited by students in a research methods class at a large Northeastern
U.S. university. Each student was required to provide the names and e-mails oI at least 15
individuals who indicated a willingness to take part. These individuals were contacted by e-mail
in October 2009. and directed to an online consent Iorm. AIter providing inIormed consent.
participants were randomly assigned to one oI three story conditions. A total oI 254 individuals
took part in the study. However. a small number oI these were excluded because they Iailed to
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
correctly answer a simple knowledge question about the topic oI the stimulus story. leaving a
total N oI 225.
Most oI these participants were current students (71.1°). primarily at the same school as
those doing the recruiting (54.7° oI the total sample). The maiority oI the remaining participants
held a college or advanced degree (20.9°). Participants were predominantly Iemale (63.6°) and
White (88.9°). Not surprisingly. given the primarily student makeup oI the sample. the
participants were generally young (M ÷ 25.36. SD ÷ 11.02). but ages ranged Irom 18 to 74. Only
28.4° oI participants reported using Twitter.
As noted. participants viewed one oI three versions oI the news story. The basis Ior the
manipulation was a story Irom The New York Times published iust prior to the start oI the study.
The story described a speech by President Obama dealing with health care reIorm. Iocused on
the potential risk oI losing health insurance Iaced by many Americans under 65. Participants
were presented with one oI three screen-captured images. The long Iorm oI the story provided
the Iirst Iour paragraphs oI this story. as they appeared on the 'Money & Policy¨ section oI the
newspaper`s Web site. All ads were removed. as was material indicating the date. A 'next page¨
box appeared at the bottom oI the story. which had the headline 'Seeking to Woo the Insured.
Obama Cites Risk oI Losing Coverage.¨ In contrast to this version oI the story. the short version
included iust the Iirst paragraph. and the box at the bottom oI the story said 'read story.¨
Otherwise the Iormat matched. Finally. the Twitter version showed the nytimes Twitter Ieed
page on Twitter`s site. and listed the tweet Ior this story: 'Obama Keeps Up Health Care Push.
Citing Uninsured.¨ along with a bit.ly link and the note that the tweet was made 'about 1 hour
ago Irom web.¨ Although hosted by Twitter. this page clearly indicates it is associated with The
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
New York Times. including a prominent display oI the Times` logo and name. a link to the
newspaper`s home page and a brieI 'bio¨ describing the paper. For all three versions. the story or
Tweet was the actual text posted by the newspaper. with no alterations other than shortening the
material. For all versions. other Tweets. headlines or stories were deleted.
For all three versions. participants were told the image was a screen capture oI a recent
news item that appeared online. and that they should look at it beIore clicking to proceed.
Participants answered a series oI general demographic and attitude questions prior to viewing the
image. and aIter proceeding answered additional questions measuring the dependent variables.
All materials were presented online. In total. 52 individuals read the Twitter version. 77 read the
short version. and 96 saw the long version. A randomization script was used Ior assignment. and
some variation between conditions is possible. but the unequal numbers suggest that mortality or
attention to the story may have been slightly unequal between conditions. To help address this.
several control variables are included in analysis. including age. student status. prior use oI
Twitter. and gender. II participants were unequal between conditions despite random assignment.
this will help control Ior any such variation. while also serving to reduce extraneous variance in
the dependent variables.
Dependent variables
Perceived credibilitv. Participants were asked to indicate how credible they Iound the
inIormation and the source presenting it. An index was Iormed based on seven questions. all oI
which were presented on a 7-point scale ranging Irom strongly disagree to strongly agree (M ÷
5.02. SD ÷ 1.37. Cronbach`s alpha ÷ .95). SpeciIically. participants were asked how much they
agreed that they 'trust the source oI this inIormation.¨ 'believe the content oI this text is true.¨
'trust the speciIic inIormation in this text.¨ 'would reIer to this text in the Iuture.¨ 'would reIer
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
to this source in the Iuture.¨ 'would rely on this inIormation to support an argument.¨ and
'believe this source is credible.¨
Issue importance. Participants were asked how important they Iound health care reIorm.
which given the nature oI this issue likely indicates both involvement in the topic and
support Ior reIorm. An index was Iormed based on six questions. all oI which were presented on
a 7-point scale ranging Irom strongly disagree to strongly agree (M ÷ 5.39. SD ÷ 1.35. alpha ÷ .
93). SpeciIically. participants were asked how much they agree that health care reIorm is
important to them personally. the nation as a whole. and that it will be important in ten years.
Then they were asked the same three questions about the number oI uninsured.
Information-seeking intent. Participants were asked how likely they were to pursue this
issue Iurther through a variety oI venues. An index was Iormed based on nine questions. all oI
which were presented on a 7-point scale ranging Irom not likely to very likely (M ÷ 4.38. SD ÷
1.34. alpha ÷ .89). SpeciIically. participants indicated how likely they were to take the Iollowing
actions regarding 'the issue oI health care and the number oI uninsured¨: click the link Iound in
the story. read additional online stories. search Ior inIormation. read additional stories in a print
newspaper. watch network television news coverage. watch cable news coverage. read blogs.
talk with Iriends. and talk with Iamily.
Information satisfaction. Finally. participants were asked how 'satisIied |they were| with
the inIormation Iound in the text.¨ This was measured with a single question. as described above.
using a 7-point scale ranging Irom strongly disagree to strongly agree (M ÷ 3.64. SD ÷ 1.64).
As noted. analysis included Iour control variables: age. prior use oI Twitter. gender. and
student status (student or not). All hypotheses were initially tested using ANCOVA with these
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
control variables as covariates and story condition as the IV. H1 predicted that people would see
stories posted on The New York Times Web site as more credible than those posted via Twitter.
The analysis reveals a signiIicant eIIect oI story condition on perceived credibility. F (2. 185) ÷
3.89. p·.05. partial eta-squared ÷ .04. As shown in Table 1. post hoc analysis conIirms that those
viewing the Twitter version scored it as signiIicantly less credible than those who saw either the
short or long versions. but those versions had similar scores.
H2 predicted that individuals would see the issue as more important iI presented with a
long story. This hypothesis was not supported. as the analyses Iound no signiIicant diIIerence
between story conditions. F (2. 187) ÷ .24. n.s. As Table 1 shows. the three conditions had very
similar levels oI reported importance.
Finally. RQ1 asked how story length and location would aIIect inIormation seeking
intention. The analyses show no evidence that length or location inIluenced intended
inIormation-seeking behavior. F (2. 186) ÷ .31. n.s. The literature suggested potentially
competing mechanisms by which length and location would aIIect inIormation seeking.
Participants reading a tweet might have Iound the issue less important perhaps as a reIlection
oI credibility iudgments. As noted. the results did not support this inIluence on importance. Or.
participants might have been curious and unsatisIied with the level oI inIormation in a tweet or
even a shorter story. Additional analysis conIirm that condition had an eIIect on inIormation
satisIaction. F (2. 184) ÷ 6.54. p·.01. partial eta-squared ÷ .07. However. as Table 1 shows. the
levels oI satisIaction did not match expectations. While those who saw the short story were
noticeably less satisIied than those reading the long story. those who saw only the Twitter were
as satisIied as those reading the long story. It appears that stories posted on Twitter are seen as
less credible but that they Iail to evoke curiosity about the issue.
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
Additional analyses help clariIy the mechanisms driving inIormation seeking in these
data. A regression analysis was run using issue importance. credibility. inIormation satisIaction
and the Iour control variables to predict intended inIormation seeking. Perceived issue
importance was a strong positive predictor oI intent to seek Iuture inIormation (beta ÷ .32.
p·.001). whereas credibility was only a marginal predictor (beta ÷ .16. p·.1). InIormation
satisIaction was unrelated to inIormation seeking (beta ÷ .01. n.s.).
Further analyses can also help address the reasons Ior the credibility gap between the
tweet and the stories. All versions were clearly identiIied as Irom The New York Times. and yet
they were viewed diIIerently. One possibility is that Twitter is viewed skeptically by those who
don`t use the technology. However. an additional ANCOVA. similar to those used to test H1 but
with Twitter use as a second Iactor rather than a covariate. Iound no signiIicant interaction
between use and story Iormat. F (2. 183) ÷ .26. n.s. Twitter users were iust as skeptical as non-
Overall. then. the results suggest a clear diIIerence in the perceived credibility oI Twitter
and traditional stories. regardless oI their length. However. the results don`t oIIer evidence that
this translates into diIIerent impressions oI the importance oI the issue being covered or changes
in intended news use and inIormation seeking. At minimum. these results seem to suggest that
any 'Twitter eIIect¨ would be attributable to the location where the story appeared. and not the
level oI inIormation provided. To Iurther explore and attempt to replicate these results. we
carried out a second study. Iocusing on the location where the story appeared and holding the
length and level oI inIormation more constant. In this study. we added a third potential 'source.¨
Interestíngíy, símííar anaíyses showed a sígnífícant ínteractíon of gender and story format,
F (2, 183) = 3.49, <.05, partíaí eta-squared = .04. Whereas women foííowed the overaíí
pattern descríbed above, for men, Twítter actuaííy receíved the híghest credíbíííty score,
aíbeít oníy sííghtíy (and non-sígnífícantíy) hígher than the other two condítíons. Thís resuít ís
íntríguíng, but the reason for ít ís uncíear. One reason for study 2 ís to attempt to repíícate
thís resuít and evaíuate whether ít may símpíy be a fíuke.
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
a private blog page posting a link to a New York Times story. This allows us to more Iully
explore a range oI outlets through which individuals might gain access to the same news: the
oIIicial organization Web site. the oIIicial Twitter Ieed Ior the organization. and an unoIIicial
blog reIerence.
Study 2
As in study 1. participants were recruited by students in a research methods course at the
same university. sent an e-mail directing them to an online consent Iorm and survey. and
randomly assigned to one oI three conditions. Participants were more explicitly told that they
were viewing a screen capture that might include only brieI text; this appears to have helped
address some oI the issues with mortality and inattentiveness in the Iirst study. as numbers across
conditions were more equal and no participants had to be removed Ior incorrectly identiIying the
basic topic oI the story. Participants completed the study in early February 2010. Total N was
435. Similar to the Iirst study. participants were primarily current students (69.1°). Iemale
(62.1°). White (87.6°) and young (ages ranged Irom 18 to 68. M ÷ 26.31. SD ÷ 11.05).
In study 1. the stories varied in terms oI length as well as placement. While this provided
an ecologically valid representation oI some oI the diIIerences between receiving inIormation
about a story on Twitter versus directly Irom a news Web site. it also potentially conIounds
amount oI inIormation and location oI story. In this study. we Iocused more directly on the
location variable. holding the inIormation as Iixed as possible while still maintaining some
ecological validity. Participants viewed the same story description on The New York Times Web
site. the Times` Twitter Ieed on Twitter`s site. or on an individual`s blog. In all conditions. the
same story was used. This story appeared in the 'Energy & Environment¨ section oI The New
York Times. with the headline 'Wind Power Grows 39° Ior the Year.¨ To make the New York
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
Times version more comparable to the other conditions. the story appeared on a page listing a
number oI diIIerent stories. giving only the headline and a one-sentence summary. with the
byline oI the author. The other stories listed were blurred (participants were told in the directions
that this was intentional) to avoid conIounds or distracting elements. The Twitter version used
the actual nytimes Ieed page. as in study 1. with the original Tweet visible (reading 'Wind Power
Grows 39° Ior the Year¨ and Iollowed by a bit.ly link and the note that it was posted 'about 14
hours ago Irom Web.¨ As with the version Irom the newspaper Web site. other stories were listed
above and below this tweet. but they were blurred. Finally. the blog version appeared on a blog
created iust Ior this study using a deIault template Ior Google`s Blogger soItware. The blog was
titled 'A day in the liIe.¨ and the Times story was listed as posted Tuesday. January 26. with the
headline 'NYTimes: Wind Power Grows 39° Ior the Year.¨ text saying 'Check out this New
York Times article on wind power.¨ and an image oI windmills. which also appeared on the
original New York Times Web site. Other entries above and below this post were blurred. and
the words 'New York Times article¨ were Iormatted as a link. In total. 158 participants viewed
the Times version. 131 viewed the Twitter version. and 146 viewed the blog version.
Dependent variables
Perceived credibilitv. Participants were asked to indicate how credible they Iound the
inIormation and the source presenting it. An index was Iormed based on seven questions. all oI
which were presented on a 7-point scale ranging Irom strongly disagree to strongly agree (M ÷
4.11. SD ÷ 1.39. Cronbach`s alpha ÷ .95). SpeciIically. participants were asked how much they
agreed that they 'trust the source oI this inIormation.¨ 'believe the content oI this text is true.¨
'trust the speciIic inIormation in this text.¨ 'would reIer to this text in the Iuture.¨ 'would reIer
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
to this source in the Iuture.¨ 'would rely on this inIormation to support an argument.¨ and
'believe this source is credible.¨
Issue importance. Because analysis in the prior study showed little diIIerence between
personal and general importance as well as immediate and Iuture importance and all items
measuring those concepts were combined into a single index. in this study we relied on a single
question to measure issue important. Participants were simply asked how much they agreed with
the statement 'this is an important issue. using a 7-point scale ranging Irom strongly disagree to
strongly agree (M ÷ 4.96. SD ÷ 1.41).
Information-seeking intent. Participants were asked how likely they were to pursue this
issue Iurther through a variety oI venues. An index was Iormed based on 11 questions. all oI
which were presented on a 7-point scale ranging Irom not likely to very likely (M ÷ 3.61. SD ÷
1.33. alpha ÷ .92). SpeciIically. as in the prior study. participants indicated how likely they were
to take the Iollowing actions regarding 'the topic addressed in the text¨: click the link Iound in
the story. read additional online stories. search Ior inIormation. read additional stories in a print
newspaper. watch network television news coverage. watch cable news coverage. read blogs.
talk with Iriends. and talk with Iamily. In addition. because oI the added blog condition.
participants also indicated how likely they were to read comments about this issue and read blogs
discussing this issue.
As in study 1. initial analyses were ANCOVA controlling Ior Twitter use. age. gender.
and student status. with story condition as the IV. In study 1. the results showed support Ior H1.
with perceived credibility higher Ior those evaluating a story appearing on the actual New York
Times Web site. Consistent with this Iinding. the results Ior study 2 show a signiIicant eIIect oI
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
story location on credibility. F (2. 386) ÷ 14.39. p·.001. partial eta-squared ÷ .07. As Table 2
shows. scores were highest Ior The New York Times. Iollowed by the blog. and lowest Ior
Twitter. All three conditions were signiIicantly diIIerent Irom one another.
Despite the diIIerences in credibility. study 1 Iound no support Ior H2. predicting that the
longer story on The New York Times would cause people to see the issue as more important.
These analyses can only partly address this hypothesis. as only one story length was included.
We can still evaluate whether the posting location Ior the story mattered. and these results do
show an eIIect oI story location on perceived importance. F (2. 383) ÷ 6.68. p·.01. partial eta-
squared ÷ .03. As shown in Table 3. the results are consistent with the idea that Twitter posts
would make the story seem less important. The New York Times story was associated with
greater issue importance than the Twitter post. but the blog post actually led to the greatest
perceived importance (albeit not signiIicantly above the score Ior The New York Times).
Finally. consistent with study 1. the Iindings show no signiIicant eIIect oI story location
on inIormation seeking intention. F (2. 395) ÷ .11. n.s. As in study 1. we carried out additional
analyses to Iurther explore this result. A regression model predicting inIormation seeking with
credibility and issue importance. along with the control variables. showed that credibility (beta
÷ .13. p·.05) and issue importance (beta ÷ .41. p·001) were both signiIicant positive predictors
oI inIormation seeking. Thus. the manipulation had no direct eIIect on inIormation-seeking
despite strongly inIluencing two Iactors leading to behavioral intent.
As in study 1. we also carried out Iurther analysis to consider why participants viewed
Twitter as less credible. Iocusing on possible moderating variables. As in the Iirst study. there
was no signiIicant interaction oI Twitter use and story location when the Iormer was included as
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
a Iactor. F (2. 384) ÷ .25. n.s.
Similarly. there was also no signiIicant interaction involving these
variables in predicting issue importance. F (2. 381) ÷ .45. n.s.. and the interaction between these
variables in predicting inIormation seeking was only marginally signiIicant. F (2. 393) ÷ 2.46.
p·.1. partial eta-squared ÷ .01. Non Twitter users were actually more likely to say they would
seek inIormation aIter seeing the tweet than any other condition. although the diIIerences were
small and not signiIicant.
Although a number oI studies have Iocused on diIIerences in credibility across diIIerent
online inIormation sources. they have generally not explored how the same inIormation. Irom the
same source. but distributed through diIIerent channels. would be perceived diIIerently. In
Iocusing on the use oI Twitter by a news organization. we are able to consistently demonstrate
that such a use lowers perceived credibility. Even though The New York Times is clearly
identiIied as the source oI the inIormation. and the Twitter post actually appears on the 'oIIicial¨
New York Times Ieed page. that shiIt signiIicantly reduced the credibility oI the message and the
source (despite it being the exact same source).
This provides a notable contrast to studies that show blog postings are oIten seen as
equally or more credible than mainstream news. While the 'Iiltering¨ perIormed by a blog may
enhance perceptions that the inIormation is worthwhile. Twitter apparently is not seen as serving
the same Iunction. Perhaps this stems Irom widespread media coverage oI Twitter linking it to
Unííke the fírst study, gender díd not sígnífícantíy moderate the effects of the manípuíatíon
on perceíved credíbíííty ín study 2, (2, 384) = 1.25, An examínatíon of the mean scores
showed no evídence that the generaí pattern was even consístent wíth the príor study.
However, gender ínteract wíth manípuíatíon condítíon ín predíctíng íssue ímportance, F
(2, 381) = 3.62, <.05, partíaí eta-squared = .02. The resuíts show that for men ín the New
York Tímes condítíon, íssue ímportance scores were sígnífícantíy íower than the bíog
condítíon, and actuaííy sííghtíy íower than those for the Twítter condítíon. For women,
however, New York Tímes and bíog scores íssue ímportance scores were essentíaííy tíed,
whííe Twítter scores were sígnífícantíy íower. We consíder these fíndíngs bríefíy ín the
díscussíon sectíon.
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
celebrities and relatively shallow posts Irom 'average¨ Americans. Exploring exact perceptions
oI Twitter and their role in credibility iudgments would be a worthy Iuture direction. Notably.
though. in this study even the blog post was seen as less credible. OI course. whereas most
'maior¨ blogs would have a recognizable 'brand¨ themselves. as well as ongoing discussion and
Iurther analysis. in this study we relied on a simple. direct link to the story an expression oI 'I
noticed this¨ similar to what happens with Twitter. Somewhat surprisingly. even with all oI these
Iactors arrayed against the blog. it was still seen as more credible than the oIIicial Twitter post.
Meanwhile. these data do not Iully illuminate the reasons Ior the diIIerences. Whereas
many prior studies have suggested that Iamiliarity with technology or speciIic tools can increase
the credibility people see in those resources. our study did not support such a conclusion Ior
Twitter. Users oI the service did not diIIer signiIicantly in their evaluations. OI course. not
everyone who has used Twitter is necessarily intimately Iamiliar with its Iunctions. and this
could be examined Iurther. In our data. however. the numbers oI users oI any level were so small
that Iurther identiIying only 'power¨ users would be Iutile. Similarly. other typical markers oI
technological savvy such as age or education level could not be considered in a sample that was
primarily composed oI college students.
One variable that could be considered was gender. and this Iactor did oIIer some
intriguing iI inconsistent results. In study 1. men saw Twitter as credible. but women did not.
However. this result did not carry into study 2 but men did see the story in The New York
Times as less important. It may be that men have more negative Ieelings about newspapers in
general or The New York Times in particular. Analyses controlling Ior partisanship did not
aIIect this result. so it`s not simply a reiection oI the 'liberal media¨ by typically more
conservative men. There is no obvious theoretical reason why gender would modiIy Ieelings
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
speciIically about Twitter. and the result is not consistent across the two studies. but it is
intriguing and warrants Iurther assessment in Iuture research.
The study also explores the potential consequences oI these credibility iudgments. We
argued that Twitter should lead to stories seeming less important both because oI diIIerences in
credibility and because the brevity oI the tweet doesn`t allow Ior an explanation oI why the issue
mattered. In study 1. we did not Iind support Ior this; issue importance did not vary between
conditions. In study 2. however. the Twitter version was seen as less important. (The relatively
high importance oI the blog-posted story might stem Irom the additional cue about importance
given by the decision oI an outside party to post a link to the content.) It may be that in study 1.
the issue was already too widely known and discussed Ior a single manipulation to meaningIully
aIIect iudgments. In that case. study 2 would be a more accurate indicator. II so. then this would
show that the decreased credibility oI Twitter-posted content has other meaningIul eIIects. Not
only are people more skeptical oI the inIormation. but they are also concluding that the
underlying issues matter less.
Despite the Iact that both Iactors are themselves signiIicant predictors oI inIormation-
seeking intent. in both studies the manipulations Iailed to inIluence this third outcome variable.
People were neither more nor less inclined to Iollow up on a Tweet than an actual news story or
headline. It could be that even though the Twitter version is seen as less credible and sometimes
even less important. there is some other oIIsetting Iactor at play. Perhaps. as speculated. the
tweet does create curiosity about the issue. but the eIIects on credibility and importance canceled
this out. Or perhaps. since participants were primarily college students. their willingness to
pursue Iurther news is simply too low Ior any version to really motivate them to action.
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
More generally. the sample here is a notable Ilaw oI the study. On the one hand. college
students are key users oI new technology. However. Twitter may be an exception to this. with
many Iigures suggesting it is more popular among adults. While our sampling strategy
successIully captured some adults. and oIIers diversity beyond a single maior or even institution.
it still primarily captured students. Even in an experiment. having a more diverse and
representative sample would enhance external validity.
Another area where Iuture research could improve upon the study design is the
measurement oI intended inIormation-seeking behavior. Any such selI-report data are
speculative. and it is socially desirable in this case to overestimate likely news use. Because oI
the soItware used to gather data. it was impossible to allow participants to actually click on the
link in the various stories. but a design where this was possible would oIIer a useIul measure oI
story interest.
Overall. though. the Iindings here. particularly with regards to credibility. oIIer important
theoretical and practical insights. In contrast to many studies oI online credibility. this study
shows that some technologies are not 'trusted.¨ even by their regular users. Twitter. in particular.
seems to elicit a negative reaction. Whether this is a consequence oI some particular impression
oI the brand or is linked to the microblogging phenomenon overall remains unclear. But research
Iurther exploring this could help understand why Internet users seem to gravitate toward plenty
oI suspect inIormation sources yet shun even an oIIicial channel oI a maior news organization.
At an applied level. this study suggests there is a real danger in the use oI Twitter as a way to
distribute news. Despite the oIIicial NYT 'stamp.¨ these stories were still viewed in a more
negative light when posted to Twitter. Participants even saw the larger news organization as less
credible. suggesting that by using Twitter The New York Times and other organizations might
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
be hurting their brand identity. Nor was there any clear. oIIsetting beneIit whereby the posts at
least elicited curiosity and prompted users to want to click Ior more. The results suggest getting
bloggers to post on your content may be more beneIicial. but even this threatened credibility to
some degree. These sorts oI Iindings. combined with an increased desire to control content as a
way to set up pay services. may lead news organizations to be less eager to disseminate their
content through a variety oI channels. however trendy.
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
Table 1: Credibility. importance and inIormation-seeking scores by post length and
location (study 1)
Dependent variable Twitter Short story Long story
Credibility 4.56
Importance 5.43
InIormation seeking 4.41
Note: Scores shown are estimated means with age. gender. Twitter use and student status
as covariates. Means not sharing a subscript diIIer signiIicantly on pairwise comparisons (p·.05).
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons
Table 2: Credibility. importance and inIormation-seeking scores by post location (study
Dependent variable Twitter New York Times Blog
Credibility 3.70
Importance 5.63
InIormation seeking 3.65
Note: Scores shown are estimated means with age. gender. Twitter use and student status
as covariates. Means not sharing a subscript diIIer signiIicantly on pairwise comparisons (p·.05).
Twítter, credíbíííty, and íssue perceptíons

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