Trust Online: Young Adults' Evaluation of Web Content

Authors: Eszter Hargittai, Lindsay Fullerton, Ericka Menchen-Trevino, and Kristin Yates Thomas

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Citation: Hargittai, E., Fullerton, F, Menchen-Trevino E & Thomas, K (2010). Trust Online: Young Adults' Evaluation of Web Content. International Journal of Communication. 4:468-494.


Little of the work on online credibility assessment has considered how the information-seeking process figures into the final evaluation of content people encounter. Using unique data about how a diverse group of young adults looks for and evaluates Web content, our paper makes contributions to existing literature by highlighting factors beyond site features in how users assess credibility. We find that the process by which users arrive at a site is an important component of how they judge the final destination. In particular, search context, branding and routines, and a reliance on those in one's networks play important roles in online information-seeking and evaluation. We also discuss that users differ considerably in their skills when it comes to judging online content credibility.


  • Introduction
  • Media Literacy, Information Seeking and Credibility Assessment
  • Data and Methods
    • Data Collection
    • Sample Descriptives
    • Measuring Credibility Assessment: Surveys
    • Measuring Credibility Assessment: Observations and Interviews
  • Results
    • Trust in Search Engines
    • Reliance on the Known: Brands and Routines
    • Contacting People
  • Skill Differences
  • Future Directions
  • Conclusion
  • Appendix I: Task list administered during in-person observation sessions
  • Acknowledgments

    The authors are grateful to the two anonymous reviewers for their helpful comments and suggestions as well as Andrew Flanagin, Miriam Metzger, Daniel O’Keefe, Daniel M. Russell and Gina Walejko for valuable input at various stages of the project. The authors greatly appreciate the generous support of the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation that made this project possible. The authors are indebted to Waleeta Canon, Gina Walejko and Elizabeth Anderson for their assistance with data collection. Work by the group of undergraduate research assistants in the Web Use Project lab during the 2006–07 and 2007–08 academic years is kindly acknowledged. The authors also thank the support of Ann Feldman, Tom Moss, Mary Case and Karen Mossberger at the University of Illinois, Chicago. The first author is also grateful for the inspiring and supportive environment at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society.

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