THE ROLE OF ACCOUNT FEATURES AND SOCIAL NETWORKS ON PERCEIVED QUALITY OF INFORMATION SHARERS ON SOCIAL MEDIA
Auxier, Brooke Elizabeth
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In today’s complex social media environments, users are inundated with news and information. Due to the affordances of the internet, not all content is created equal and much of what exists online is less-than-quality. However, it is important for online users to locate trustworthy and reliable information. It is also important to understand how social media account features and social network connections may mediate users’ evaluations of quality on social media. This dissertation presents a multifaceted look at how users evaluate the quality (i.e. trustworthiness and reliability) of news and information sharers on social media. This work is comprised of three unique, yet complementary studies, that use several methods including survey, social network analysis and statistical analysis. Each study focuses on different types of information sharers—unknown users, network connections, and news organizations. Taken together they suggest that sharers of information are central to users’ propensity to trust and rely on information itself. At a high level, this dissertation suggests the following: (1) when examining unknown information sharers, U.S. audiences are more likely to trust and rely on accounts that are gender-neutral and share a cultural background; (2) there is no relationship between more connected nodes within a person’s social network and trust in news shared by that connection, and young adult Facebook users report having low levels of trust in news shared by friends; and (3) news consumers look for tangible signals of reliability and trustworthiness, like About descriptions and official website links, when assessing news organization social media profiles. This work shows that beyond the reliability of news content, social media users depend on signals, social ties, and platform features to determine trust and reliability in news sharers. Though users consider many factors when assessing credibility of information on social media (e.g. verification status of the sharer, prior interaction with a sharer) the role and influence of the sharer has not been substantially studied in the evaluative process.