Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Twitter, hashtags, and implied trust

As the amount of information we are exposed to increases we will have to be more conscious consumers of information. The value of information is tied to its authenticity, source, and gravity. One aspect of social networking is the question of how much information can be trusted because it comes from your "friends." This is the idea behind facebook and its new search function as well as the ability to share links, notes, and other information. We trust information from our friends more than from people we don't know. There has been some research to show how important trust is when it comes to making decisions including Abram (2008, p.468) .
The interesting thing is that in social networking applications we are making contacts that aren't really our "friends." We're adding other contacts, brief acquaintances, or people with common interests. We may be adding celebrities or or people we may never meet and even marketers and representatives of brands. And yet, do we trust what they say and how much trust do we give them? McAllister stated that interpersonal trust is measured on a gradient and is "the extent to which a person is confident in, and willing to act on the basis of, the words, actions, and decisions of another" (McAllister, 1995, p. 25). So we don't trust these contacts fully, but we probably assign some amount of trust to them based on our experience with their communications and status. Is this amount of trust quantifiable by any tools such as twitalyzer or are we on our own?
The last trust question I have is about hashtags. They are very interesting little things in the twitter world. They allow you to tag your twitter posts with a topic, conference affiliation, or other category. Besides the occasional spamming this enables, which twitter is now combating, this provides for a certain authority to a post. No longer is a post just a random thought but it has been assigned a kind of meaning, and that meaning can be associated with some level of implied trust. Attendees of a conference may follow a hashtag for their conference and posts with that tag are attributed with the understanding that this person is at their conference. They are thus "experts" of some level on this topic. They don't even have to be contacts let alone friends of yours and yet you are subconsciously assigned this level of trust to them. Are they at the conference? Are they an expert in the conference field or a novice? Is their a difference to the quality of their posts if they are at either end of the spectrum or are both valuable? Hashtags are certainly valuable in this instance, allowing you to find posts about your topic of interest regardless if you know of the poster, but how much can we trust them?
To further complicate the trust issue we have hashtag retweeters. Each time a person uses the assigned hashtag the retweeter reposts the post under the retweeter name. This is used at conferences so everyone can follow one twitter account and yet profit from the information that any attendee posts with the hashtag. This is truly an implied trust that we're dealing with though, as now the posts of strangers are being posted under the name of a trusted source. Of course the original posters name is included, but how many levels of trust can the human brain factor in when scanning this nesting of information in a twitter stream? Is the repost more trusted than the original since it now has a trusted name attached? What attached values to a twitter post make you more likely to act or use the information in a decision?
There seems to be many more questions than answers when it comes to trust and social networking right now, but it seems important to consider how much you trust the information you are presented with now that the sources are getting more complex. Timely crowdsourced information can be a powerful tool, but how do we assign value to each post and source when considering the overall value of the information?

Abram, S. & Downey E. M. (2008). Our user experience: Puzzle pieces falling into place - workshop report. The Serials Librarian, 55(3), 461-468. Hunstville, AL: Mississippi State University Libraries.
McAllister, D. J. (1995). Affect and cognition-based trust as foundations for interpersonal cooperation in organizations. Academy of Management Journal, 38(1), 24-59.

1 comment:

Drew said...

Solid piece of research. I'm reminded of a recent commercial, where a young lady overloads everyone around her with "facts". (Don't ask me what they are selling.) It's painfully funny, and all too true.