Credibility assessment in the participatory web environment

This project investigated new sets of heuristics which have emerged in the participatory Web environment proliferated by user-generated content such as blogs, wikis, video sharing sites and sites that allow user feedback.

Start date: 9/1/2008
End date: 8/31/2012

Read More

Web users are increasingly generating and distributing content online in diverse ways, sharing photographs and videos, rating and reviewing products and services, and blogging about their interests and everyday life activities. One of the consequences of increasing user participation on the Web is that credibility assessment is now situated in diverse online activities and contexts.

Through phone interviews conducted with online content contributors, this study examined how content contributors assess credibility when gathering information for their online content creation and mediation activities, as well as the strategies they use to establish the credibility of the content they create. These contributors reported that they engaged in content creation activities such as posting or commenting on blogs or online forums, rating or voting on online content, and uploading photos, music, or video. 

The study found that credibility judgments made when gathering information for online content creation and mediation activities could be grouped into three levels: intuitive, heuristic, and strategy-based. The research also identified three distinctive ways of establishing credibility that are applied during different phases of content contribution: ensuring credibility during the content creation phase; signaling credibility during the content presentation phase; and reinforcing credibility during the post-production phase. Content contributors tend to carry over the strategies they used for assessing credibility during information gathering to their strategies for establishing the credibility of their own content. 

Even though the sample size was rather small, the content contributors who participated had quite diverse backgrounds in terms of age, education level, and occupation. Given the body of credibility research which focused on understanding information seekers’ or consumers’ perceptions, this study expanded the knowledge of credibility assessment in information behavior by focusing on the particular user group who contributes user-generated content on the Web.

The findings suggest that content contributors are more apt to make intuitive and heuristic judgments rather than strategy-based judgments when assessing credibility. Further, they seem likely to exert more effort when establishing the credibility of their own content than when assessing the credibility of other people’s content. The results also indicated that when content contributors engage in content creation activities, they make an effort to establish credibility throughout distinct phases of the content contribution process. Furthermore, content contributors are actively willing to understand who their audience is and to interact directly with them in order to reinforce the credibility of their content, even after they have finished posting their content online. 

Conversely, the findings from this study revealed that content contributors who voluntarily contribute content online and who enjoy engaging in online content contribution tend to apply a limited number of strategies for making credibility judgments during both their information gathering and content creation and mediation activities.




Credibility Assessment in the Participatory Web Environment, $430,000: MacArthur Foundation


The John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation supports creative people and effective institutions committed to building a more just, verdant, and peaceful world. In addition to selecting the MacArthur Fellows, the Foundation works to defend human rights, advance global conservation and security, make cities better places, and understand how technology is affecting children and society.