Political Advertising Effects on Perceived Bias, Value, and Credibility in Online News

Political Advertising Effects on Perceived Bias, Value, and Credibility in Online News

Salma Mariam Ayad, Robert Andrew Dunn, Stephen William Marshall
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-7998-2543-2.ch008
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This study represents an investigation of the effect of political advertising on readers' perceptions of bias, value, and credibility in an online news article. Participants read an unbiased news article placed alongside three advertisements. Participants randomly entered one of three conditions—right-leaning advertisements, left-leaning advertisements, or neutral advertisements. They then answered questions about the perceived bias and credibility of the article. The researchers predicted biased political ads would prime perceptions of bias for the news article, despite its neutrality. Though the findings trended in the hypothesized direction, a lack of significance suggests political advertising may not serve as a prime for news readers in making decisions about the political bias, credibility, and news value of an article or news source. However, participants who had a higher prior knowledge of politics did place a higher news value on the article than those with low prior knowledge. Also, men were more likely to see a liberal bias and to rate a news story higher on news value.
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Internet use in the United States has continued to increase over the last two decades, as now 90 percent of Americans are online (Pew Research Center, 2019). Because of its ease of use and few regulations, the Internet has allowed the number of news sources to flourish. Most American adults have used the Internet to check the news, thus providing an audience for the continually increasing number of news outlets (Morris, 2007). Although television news is still the most popular among news consumers, the Internet is quickly gaining ground (Gottfried & Shearer, 2017). The Internet surpassed print publications as a popular news source in 2010 (O’Dell, 2011), and getting news from social media surpassed getting it from print news in 2018 (Shearer, 2018). Today, online news is practically ubiquitous in the United States as “88% of Americans ever get news on a mobile device and 84% ever get news on a computer” (Fedeli & Matsa, 2018, para. 3) . But as the number of online news outlets has increased, so has the fragmentation of the news media (Morris, 2007).

Niche websites have started to attract news consumers and steer them away from mainstream sources (Morris, 2007). The number of people that access these niche sites has increased as the Internet has become a major source of information (Baum & Groeling, 2008). Most news blogs and sites that cater to niche audiences are split by political ideology. Although their audiences are small, niche news sites that provide one-sided political coverage, such as DailyKos.com on the left and FreeRepublic.com on the right, have developed a loyal following. This fragmented news environment has given Americans the ability to choose from a variety of sources to seek political information and news (Morris, 2007). Research has shown that those who feel like they do not receive information from mainstream sources that confirm their point of view seek out other news outlets online (Choi, Watt, & Lynch, 2006). The Internet boasts many news outlet options, but given a choice of what to read, people tend to choose news items that reinforce their own opinions rather than material that challenges their beliefs (Garrett, 2009).

This trend in news consumption has led to a more politically polarized public (Morris, 2007). A study by Coe et al. (2008) showed that television viewership is divided along partisan lines. The researchers found that liberals were more likely to report viewing the liberally-aligned The Daily Show than more conservative Fox News. Part of what motivates people to watch certain news programs is the tendency of those shows to present “a relatively partisan view of current events” (Coe et al., 2008, p. 209). The study found that audience appreciation of a news program that shared their point of view was a significant predictor of whether they chose to watch it.

Not only are people more likely to watch programs that reinforce their beliefs, but they also rate those programs as less biased (Coe et al., 2008). Arceneaux, Johnson, and Murphy (2012) found that people who viewed television news that agreed with their political attitudes rated the shows as more fair, friendly, good, and cooperative than those who saw shows countering their political attitudes. Participants who watched counter-attitudinal shows were also more likely to find the shows uninformative, unbalanced, and less American than those who watched the pro-attitudinal show. Another study found that the liberal-leaning program, The Daily Show, was rated significantly more biased by conservatives and Fox News, a conservative news channel, was rated significantly more biased by liberals (Coe et al., 2008).

Key Terms in this Chapter

Banner Advertisement: Online advertisements that stretch across the top, middle, or sides of a website.

Political Knowledge: A measure of how much one knows about politics and how current their information is on the matter.

Media Priming: Priming that takes place by way of media images or information.

News Bias: A measure of how ideologically slanted a piece of news appears to be to an audience.

News Credibility: A measure of how trustworthy and believable a piece of news appears to be to an audience.

Priming: An effect that occurs in the brain by which stimuli can access related memories or mental imagery and thereby trigger a response to later stimuli, often unconsciously.

News Value: A measure of how useful, timely, and complete a piece of news appears to be to an audience.

Political Affiliation: The ideologies a person subscribes to, often aligned with political parties.

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