Positive vs. Negative Framing of Scientific Information on Facebook Using Peripheral Cues: An Eye-Tracking Study of the Credibility Assessment Process
To examine how positive/negative message framing – based on peripheral cues (regarding popularity, source, visuals, and hyperlink) – affects perceptions of credibility of scientific information posted on social networking sites (in this case, Facebook), while exploring the mechanisms of viewing the different components.
Credibility assessment of information is a key skill in today's information society. However, it is a demanding cognitive task, which is impossible to perform for every piece of online information. Additionally, message framing — that is, the context and approach used to construct information— may impact perceptions of credibility. In practice, people rely on various cues and cognitive heuristics to determine whether they think a piece of content is true or not. In social networking sites, content is usually enriched by additional information (e.g., popularity), which may impact the users' perceived credibility of the content.
A quantitative controlled experiment was designed (N=19 undergraduate students), collecting fine grained data with an eye tracking camera, while analyzing it using transition graphs.
The findings on the mechanisms of that process, enabled by the use of eye tracking data, point to the different roles of specific peripheral cues, when the message is overall peripherally positive or negative. It also contributes to the theoretical literature on framing effects in science communication, as it highlights the peripheral cues that make a strong frame.
The positively framed status was perceived, as expected from the Elaboration Likelihood Model, more credible than the negatively framed status, demonstrating the effects of the visual framing. Differences in participants' mechanisms of assessing credibility between the two scenarios were evident in the specific ways the participants examined the various status components.
As part of digital literacy education, major focus should be given to the role of peripheral cues on credibility assessment in social networking sites. Educators should emphasize the mechanisms by which these cues interact with message framing, so Internet users would be encouraged to reflect upon their own credibility assessment skills, and eventually improve them.
The use of eye tracking data may help in collecting and analyzing fine grained data on credibility assessment processes, and on Internet behavior at large. The data shown here may shed new light on previously studied phenomena, enabling a more nuanced understanding of them.
In an era when Internet users are flooded with information that can be created by virtually anyone, credibility assessment skills have become ever more important, hence the prominence of this skill. Improving citizens' assessment of information credibility — to which we believe this study contributes — results on a greater impact on society.
The role of peripheral cues and of message framing should be studied in other contexts (not just scientific news) and in other platforms. Additional peripheral cues not tested here should be also taken into consideration (e.g., connections between the information consumer and the information sharer, or the type of the leading image).