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Description: In today's digital world we are faced with vast amounts of information generated by social networks and the internet at large, in addition to traditional outlets. “The era of fake news” (Albright, 2017) and “information pandemic” challenge us in several ways and it has become quite hard to navigate in the realm of news and information. How do we search for information, where do we find them, how do we understand the information provided, which news do we trust and why? There are a lot of questions concerning the media. Prior work on evaluation of information has primarily focused on distinguishing fake and true information and on different cognitive processes involved in the evaluation (e.g., Pennycook et al., 2020). If the online information displays blatantly false content, we are likely to judge it as fake and we do not trust it (Pennycook & Rand, 2019). But what if fake information seems plausible, reasonable, and probable enough? How do we decide whether to trust or not trust the information? What are the clues we need to properly decide? Such information places high demands on our ability to distinguish legitimate and trustworthy information from those that are untrustworthy or dubious. News/information trust could be defined as our willingness to rely on information provided by a certain source (Buchanan & Benson, 2019). From this point of view, information can come from different sources. Untrustworthy news assumes different forms than fake news – from purposeful manipulation through commercial content to inadequate editorial effort by media outlets. Poor quality content can be the result of incompetence or of a relaxed attitude of authors or editors, an over-reliance on intuition, blindness to cognitive biases and imprisonment in echo chambers (Čavojová et al., 2016). Hence, news/information trust refers to perceived credibility and trustworthiness of the information, not the measure of the actual quality of the information (Freeman & Spyridakis, 2004). To expand current knowledge, we focus on health messages. Fake news about health is as dangerous as political fake news and belief in fake health articles can result in poor health choices that are ineffective at best and lethal at worst. For instance, conspiracy beliefs can have a real effect on general health. Recently published research shows that belief in conspiracy is connected with negative attitudes towards vaccination (Hornsey et al., 2018; Jolley & Douglas, 2017). Given that there is extremely easy access to health advice in the media (such as social media for information on nutrition, Poínhos et al., 2017), and consumers are not experts in the issues, one might wonder how individuals decide what health information to trust (Freeman & Spyridakis, 2004). Information obtained from interpersonal, online, or media sources change how one approaches health and illness (Bell, 2014). Besides, online health messages are mostly unsatisfactory, incomplete, and inaccurate, and/or have misleading content or even potentially harmful health information (e.g., Dutta et al., 2020, on COVID-19 and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2); Goobie et al., 2019, on idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis; Loeb et al., 2020, on urological health issues; Mueller et al., 2019, on psoriasis; Mueller et al., 2020, on atopic eczema;). Using other cues than expertise to evaluate the quality of the information, consumers usually judge by credibility of the source (Freeman & Spyridakis, 2004). When individuals perceive a certain source as reliable (such as a friend), they are more likely to trust the information coming from this source (Buchanan & Benson, 2019). When individuals trust a message, they share and like the message, so the organic reach of the message is greater compared to an untrustworthy message (Buchanan & Benson, 2019). When a piece of information comes from the media, individuals evaluate, for instance, its accuracy, fairness, and bias as well as the source itself (Strömbäck et al., 2020). As to credibility of the online source, it can be affected by web site characteristics, such as contact information, medical disclaimers, disclosure, links to credible sources, authors names and qualifications (Freeman & Spyridakis, 2004). Although readers claim to judge the website by several criteria (such as source of the websites, their design, scientific or professional touch, language, and ease of use), in fact, they are rather unsystematic in their search for information, they do not dig deeper nor they check the information provided (Eysenbach & Köhler, 2002). It is also important how familiar the topic to an individual is and what kind of information skills one possesses in online credibility evaluation (Lucassen et al., 2013). Searching activities are rather easy but simplistic (Wallace et al., 2000). It seems that search is more like one shot and individuals want to come to a quick decision whether to trust the information or not. We have several reasons why our research focuses on adolescents and on their trust in health information. Firstly, the vast majority of the research on trust in news/information involves adult samples (e.g., (Newman & Fletcher, 2017; Sterrett et al., 2018). Secondly, youth is an especially sensitive period for development of good health practices, and it seems particularly salient to support healthy lifestyle preferences in this period (Kelly et al., 2011). We cannot expect the media to provide healthier content or to drop the unhealthier messages, it is up to adolescents how they approach the messages (Brown, 2006). For instance, recent research has shown risky behavior in youth is promoted by positive portrayals in the media, such as exposure to pro-smoking portrayals in movies (Sargent et al., 2005) or to pro-alcohol portrayals (Hanewinkel et al., 2012). Therefore, it is very important to understand which health messages are trustworthy, relevant, without commercial background such as advertising, promotion, or sponsorship. Thirdly, similar to adults, adolescents also have problems with evaluation of the information. In the relevant literature focusing on adolescents, research has highlighted search strategies that adolescents use to find needed information. For example, adolescents usually evaluate credibility of the online information based on website appearance, frequency of citation and the website's domain (Park & Kwon, 2018). Adolescents search less systematically (Bilal & Kirby, 2002; Hansen et al., 2003) and seldom consider the source of the information (Hansen et al., 2003; Wallace et al., 2000). And even if they find the proper information, vast majority of the secondary school students in the United States could not reliably reveal sponsored content in the text from the original editorial content; almost half of the high school students considered the photo in the article to be a sufficient argument in favor of the claim and they did not question its source; university students had trouble assessing the credibility of a short text message (tweet) on Twitter (Wineburg et al., 2016). Fourthly, this study follows up results from our previous studies with high school pupils. We (RM, NV) qualitatively explored the perception of the editing process regarding the article trustworthiness and identified several elements of erroneous or insufficient editing that influenced the distinction between the credibility and the untrustworthiness of articles. Namely, superlatives, clickbait, grammar mistakes, authority, and bold typeface (Vorelová & Masaryk, 2019). Fifthly, as Strömbäck and colleagues (2020) emphasize most of the studies concerning media trust are cross-sectional ones, we want to experimentally verify the effect of content and format of the articles (fake, true, and with editing elements) on trust in information. Several recent studies (e.g., Pennycook et al., 2020) showed that people with better analytical thinking are usually better at discerning fake news from the real news, regardless of their political orientation. These studies examined mainly political fake news and used adult samples; therefore, we aim to examine the protective role of analytical thinking against manipulation of the articles in high school pupils. However, recent studies showed that beside analytical thinking, also scientific reasoning is related to distrust of alternative treatments and pseudoscientific health practices (e.g., Čavojová & Ersoy, 2020) and scientific reasoning predicted endorsement of general as well as health specific (related to COVID-19) unwarranted beliefs over and above the analytic thinking (Čavojová, Šrol, & Ballová Mikušková, 2020; Čavojová, Šrol, & Jurkovič, 2020). Therefore, to examine its effect on manipulation of the articles we included it in our study. Since domain-specific knowledge is bound to concrete problems that can be easier handled for adolescents (Bašnáková & Čavojová, 2019), we apply concrete scientific reasoning in the study. Lastly, not everybody is motivated or able to reason analytically and scientifically, thus the focus is shifted more and more also toward second-order scientific reasoning, such as media literacy. For instance, it helps in reducing current smoking and susceptibility of future smoking (Primack et al., 2006). Furthermore, media literacy interventions decrease deviant behavior such as alcohol intake, smoking, body dissatisfaction, and eating disorders (Xie et al., 2019). The current study will therefore explore whether media-savvy adolescents will be affected by manipulation of the articles in information trust. Hence, this study was designed to understand how manipulation with the content and format in the short health messages affect their trustworthiness in adolescents while accounting for analytic thinking, scientific reasoning, and media literacy, and what implications this may have on content or format of health information.

License: CC-By Attribution 4.0 International


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