August 11, 2017
The internet is a pretty scary place. Between cyber attacks, phishing scams, and the dark web, the information superhighway is not a place to be taken lightly. Trust in online interactions is dwindling, as more and more people are subjected to the dark side of the internet. However, as technology becomes more and more prevalent in everyday life, the question remains: what is the new normal for trust online and who is benefiting from this.
In our recent report, we discussed a study from Pew Research Center, where 48 percent of respondents believed trust would increase over the next decade, but 28 percent believed it would stay the same, and 22 percent believed it would decrease. And while those might seem like some pretty mixed numbers, it’s all you can expect from a topic with some many different avenues of thought.
“Trust itself will become more contingent and transactional,” said Lee Rainie, director of internet and technology research at Pew Research Center and a co-author of the report. “Some argued that, as the public’s trust in institutions declines and as online social spaces become filled with disputed facts, people will start to allocate trust on a case-by-case, even moment-to-moment basis.”
The arguments for each side were far too poignant for the authors of the study to make a definitive decision. While some insisted that, with technology becoming integral to leading a normal life in today’s society, people will be forced into trusting it whether they like it or not.
But how does that lack of trust impact the internet landscape? It’s leading to the rise of highly partisan political sites designed to profit off of people’s lack of trust in mainstream media. Buzzfeed’s recent study, which looked at 667 websites and their 452 associated Facebook pages, analyzed our shifting political landscape and came up with some disturbing results.
For instance, the election alone caused “at least 187 new partisan news sites to launch,” and the sites can sometimes be extremely lucrative: One writer for the liberal site Addicting Info “earned $20,026.63 in one month for a single article.”
“Liberal and conservative partisan news websites exist as parallel universes,” Buzzfeed explains. “An analysis of major traffic referrers among partisan sites revealed tight networks of interlinking within each ideological sphere — but hardly any referring from liberal to conservative websites, and vice versa.”
One particularly telling fact? Some publishers ran sites on both sides of the political aisle:
“There are at least five people or companies that operate both liberal and conservative partisan news sites. These publishers work both sides of the aisle in order to capture as much revenue as possible, and to hedge against one side or the other dropping off in terms of growth.”
Tragically, there is no quick solution that can easily restore the lost trust that has powered these sites to dominance: Trust in online interactions can only be as good as the interactions we have over the course of time. And if there continues to be a major, headline news-worthy cyber attack every other week, I’d be willing to bet that the 22 percent of respondents who thought trust would decrease are dead on.
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