Winter, S. (2013). Lost in Information? – Sozialpsychologische Aspekte der Selektion und Rezeption von journalistischen Online-Angeboten [Lost in information? Social psychological aspects of selecting and processing online news]. Stuttgart, Germany: Kohlhammer.

Abstract: This dissertation deals with the selection and reception of journalistic articles on online news sites. The huge amount of information and the opportunities of user participation raise the question of whether and how recipients are influenced by information about the source and user-generated content such as ratings or reader comments. In this context, it is discussed whether theories of media and social psychology concerning selective exposure and persuasion can be applied to the usage of participatory news sites. In the first study, headlines and summaries of articles were shown on a website which was designed as an online news collection. Source information (online magazines with high vs. low reputation), community ratings (valence: positive vs. negative) and the number of views (few vs. many) were varied as within-subject factors. Results showed that the participants preferred texts which were attached to highly reputable sources – although content was kept constant –, whereas social ratings were only relevant when the reputation of the source was low. In the second study, which focused on the process of reception, participants were asked to read an online news article. Source reputation and the form of user feedback (relevant comments vs. subjective comments vs. ratings vs. none) were systematically varied. Apart from a source effect, results showed that peer-generated postings influenced the readers’ attitude toward the topic: The persuasive effect of the text was diminished by contradicting comments which presented reasonable arguments, while subjective comments did not have an effect. An interaction between source and user feedback showed that the user-generated statements were particularly relevant for a news site with a high reputation. However, comments and ratings were not used to infer the general opinion climate. In summary, it can be concluded that models of selective exposure should be amended by the aspect of source credibility and that social reactions of the Internet community have the potential to change traditional patterns of media reception. Theoretical perspectives as well as implications with regard to the producers and users of online news sites are discussed.

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