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User-Generated Political Communication: An Experimental Test of Perceived Credibility and Persuasive Impact


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Principal Investigator(s):

Erin Cassese
West Virginia University
Email: Erin.Cassese@mail.wvu.edu
Home page: http://polisci.wvu.edu/faculty/cassese

Sample size:500
Field period: 1/14/2011-10/21/2011

 

Abstract:

The use of Web 2.0 technology in the 2008 presidential election sparked considerable interest in the impact of user-generated political communications on public opinion and political behavior. Few studies have systematically examined the effects of user-generated content on political thinking, or offered an explicit comparison between user-generated and traditional media‘s influence on voters. In this project, we focus on video sharing through venues like YouTube. We use an experiment to evaluate and compare reactions to a video about the BP Oil Spill. The experiment manipulated a source cue, attributing the video to either a conventional journalistic source or citizen ‘journalists.’ We found no differences in subjects‘ evaluations of traditional versus user-generated video quality—particularly in terms of its reliability, bias, and persuasiveness. Alternatively, people did feel the user-generated videos offered an insider point of view and scored higher on unconventional indicators of quality. Given that the traditional source is a more credible cue, one might expect it would have a greater influence on attitudes toward the spill. This was not the case. Instead, the user-generated and traditional media videos had statistically identical effects on reported emotions and attitudes toward the spill. This suggests that while people recognize the differences in sources, they do not discount the message conveyed in user-generated communications. Given the rapid proliferation of user-generated content and its ready accessibility, this result suggests new media plays an important, if not central, role in Americans‘ political thinking and behavior.

Hypotheses:

We expect the video from the traditional news sources to outperform the user-generated video on conventional criteria such as bias and accuracy. Alternatively, the user-generated video should fare better when rated on unconventional criteria (e.g., whether the source really cares about the issue, offers an insider point of view, persuasiveness).

We expect viewers employ these different criteria when evaluating different sources, so that both elicit strong emotional responses, motivation to learn more about the issue, and support for the protesters.

The magnitude of these effects will be moderated by political sophistication, such that sophisticates will exhibit more skepticism towards the user-generated content and rely more on conventional evaluation criteria. As a result, the user-generated content should have less emotional and persuasive impact.

Experimental Manipulations:

The experiment has two conditions. It is a source cue manipulation. This means all respondents watch the same video, but for half of the sample the video is attributed to one source (a professional journalist) and for the other half it is attributed to a different source (a citizen journalist). We then compare the responses of the two groups to see if the perceptions of the source influenced attitudes towards the issue portrayed in the video.

Key Dependent Variables:

Emotional reactions to the videos

Evaluations of video quality

Attitudes toward the oil spill

Summary of Findings:

We found no differences in subjects‘ evaluations of traditional versus user-generated video quality—particularly in terms of its reliability, bias, and persuasiveness. Alternatively, people did feel the user-generated videos offered an insider point of view and scored higher on unconventional indicators of quality. Given that the traditional source is a more credible cue, one might expect it would have a greater influence on attitudes toward the spill. This was not the case. Instead, the user-generated and traditional media videos had statistically identical effects on reported emotions and attitudes toward the spill.

 


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