Credibility and Crisis in Pseudonymous Communities

Credibility and Crisis in Pseudonymous Communities

Sarah Lefkowith (University of Oxford, UK)
Copyright: © 2017 |Pages: 47
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-1072-7.ch010

Abstract

Information credibility is difficult to ascertain online, especially when identity is obscured. Yet increasingly, individuals ascertain credibility of emerging information in such contexts, including in the midst of crises. The authors, using data from reddit, examine the influence of potentially credibility cues in a pseudonymous context, investigating not both general effects and whether cues affecting credibility perceptions maintain their effects during crises. Findings include a positive relationship between commenter reputation and perceived credibility in non-crises; a positive relationship between perceived credibility and the use of persuasive appeals relating to one's character or experiences during crisis; and a positive relationship between perceived credibility and the use of a link during crisis. The authors explore how reddit's structure impacts credibility perception, describe how persuasion is operationalized, and elaborate a typology of highly credible comments. Through this study, the authors contribute to both credibility research and crisis informatics.
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Introduction

In times of uncertainty, individuals and organizations must be able to determine who—or what—to believe. Yet in the digital age, ascertaining credibility is growing increasingly complex. A combination of forces, from source proliferation to evolving content production and consumption roles, challenge traditional strategies of assessing credibility and verifying information (Flanagin & Metzger, 2000; Metzger, Flanagin, & Medders, 2010; Sundar, 2008). This is particularly pronounced in contexts where markers of “author” and “source” are obscured, as occurs in much social media. In spite of these challenges, everyday users, media organizations, and governmental institutions must turn to the Internet for information on emerging events, utilizing “officially vetted” information alongside information that surfaces in social networks to guide decision making and response (Singer, 2014; Glenski, Johnston, & Weninger 2015).

The results of such efforts are often positive, enabling rapid dissemination of accurate information and service coordination. In crisis events such as natural disasters or public shootings, social media platforms are increasingly valuable because they allow for speedy aggregation of emerging, highly critical information that is otherwise difficult to obtain (Huey, Nhan, & Broll, 2012; Sutton, Palen, & Shklovski, 2008). However, these platforms are still home to rumor-mongering and potential misinformation, occasionally sparking bona fide crises of their own. Famously, reddit was the site of the misidentification of the Boston Marathon bombing suspects in 2013, resulting in the public accusation of multiple innocent individuals including one deceased missing person (D’Orazio, 2013; Kang, 2013). Though this event has led to increased scrutiny, issues of misinformation through social media persist, as has been witnessed in the wake of the November 2015 attacks in Paris (Rogers, 2015). Clearly, mis-assessing credibility can have profound effects.

Since credibility judgments occur across multiple platforms, many of which evolve rapidly, the institution of a comprehensive and imminent automatic intervention to determine content veracity seems unlikely. Addressing information verification and contemporary credibility assessment, however, is clearly necessary (Flanagin & Metzger, 2000; Singer, 2014). Consequently, we ought to unravel exactly what about this information inspires perceptions of credibility. What factors, exactly, lead us to believe information we find online?

This chapter investigates whether certain information characteristics are associated with perceived credibility in pseudonymous contexts and whether these associations change during a crisis. The author begins with a discussion of credibility and crisis informatics research, identifying factors popularly attributed to influencing credibility perceptions and exploring contemporary challenges. Using reddit as a primary data source, the authors then analyze information generated in response to both crises and non-crises using qualitative and quantitative methods. Our results indicate that, while some factors appear to be associated with perceived credibility in both crisis and non-crisis conditions, important variations exist with substantial consequences for crisis responders, journalists, everyday citizens, and future research.

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