People Trust Stuff They Read Online More Than Nearly Any Other Medium

A global Nielsen survey reports the cool yet frightening revelation that people trust opinions they find on the internet more than those from newspapers, TV, radio and magazines. The only category that trumps online rumblings is “recommendations from people known.”

Adweek reports on the ability of wackjob shut-ins and reputable authorities alike to create your tastes for you online:

“The explosion in consumer-generated media over the last couple of years — we are now tracking over 100 million CGM sources — means consumers’ reliance on word of mouth in the decision-making process, either from people they know or online consumers they don’t, has increased significantly,” said Jonathan Carson, president of online, international at the Nielsen Co.

Logic dictates that when the top two sources are combined — opinions you read online from people you know — your brain is helpless at the power of suggestion (hence the popularity of Mafia Wars on Facebook).

For the record, Nielsen says the least trusted source is text-ads on cell phones. Survey says those buggers are even more suspect than online banner ads.

Nielsen: Consumers Trust Online Opinions [Adweek]
(Photo: me and the sysop)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Anonymous says:

    I actually wrote a blog entry on my newly-created statistics blog about this last night. Some of the explanations for the information presented are sketchy at best. The biggest red flag is the fact that they grouped by people responding “completely” or “somewhat,” with the only evidence pointing to the idea that the options presented were “none,” “somewhat,” and “completely.” If anyone’s interested, I can put a reply to this comment with my blog post, but yeah I’d definitely take this with a grain of salt.

  2. tedyc03 says:

    While this seems to be shocking on its face, it makes sense to me. Word of mouth is the most powerful marketing tool, and seeing what someone else’s experience was is a huge benefit. We’ve grown to be suspect of the media and the “experts” so it’s no surprise that Yelp and Drudge are our leading news and consumer sources.

  3. TalKeaton: Every Puzzle Has an Answer! says:

    This is kind of hilarious, given that the ratio of valid- or good-information to bad information on the internet is lower than any other media form.

    Or at least I think so. And since this is an opinion on the internet, you’re more likely to believe me than if this were in another media form. It’s a vicious cycle, isn’t it?

    • trujunglist says:

      @Lisa Cebrian:

      If you don’t like this news, then you don’t have to read it, nor did you have to comment on it.

      I personally find it interesting coming from the perspective of someone that has used the internet for a very long time – before the www and all that jazz. The legitimacy of the internet has grown to such that it is THE place to go, rather than just for nerds and porn. Whereas in the past, the legitimacy was always with the “respected” traditional sources. It represents a shift in thinking from trust towards corporations to trust towards individuals.

  4. HRHKingFridayXX says:

    Hilarious- but I think people are waking up to the fact that papers like the Times are beholden to investor (corporate) interest. Same with TV, they’re tied to their advertisers, so sometimes you have to wonder whether reports are influenced.

  5. Eyebrows McGee (now with double the baby!) says:

    We have a strong local blogging community, and I TOTALLY go there first when I need local recommendations.

    Once I blogged about how awesome my plumber is. Now I can’t ever hire my plumber because he’s booked solid with people who hired him on my online rec. For which he thanked me, but I’m still kind-of annoyed about it!

    In the future I shall only use my powers for evil.

  6. pop top says:

    This is frightening, especially considering that people believe Conservapedia to be accurate, truthful and non-biased.

  7. Applekid ┬──┬ ノ( ゜-゜ノ) says:

    People trust stuff they read online? Do they now?

    Attention ladies: I’m a fantastic date.

  8. csdiego says:

    I taken lots of online polls, and whenever I’m asked the question about which news source I trust the most, I answer “the Internet”, but there’s a catch: what I mean by that is that I (more or less) trust the news I get from and, while I have no confidence at all in the TV news. In fact, I would bet that most people who still trust the so-called “liberal media”, aka mainstream newspapers, are reading those papers online. People who don’t trust them probably don’t read them at all, which would tend to inflate distrust of the mainstream media if “the Internet” is assumed to mean Druge and TMZ.

    • Trai_Dep says:

      @csdiego: I’m also somewhat disappointed in the structure of the poll question. Seems to beg for misinterpretation of results.

  9. W10002 says:

    Yes, I trust every the Consumerist says…..

  10. LostTurntable says:

    I don’t trust this article one bit.

    Yes that was a very subtle joke.

  11. hi says:

    Given that the media lies on the daily basis it’s not surprising.

  12. vladthepaler says:

    Makes sense. Major media is run by untrustworthy corporations who have strong financial motivations to sensationalize, hand-pick stories, and even outright lie. Some guy with a blog, on the other hand, is more likely to be writing out of genuine interest in the subject matter.

  13. DayWeSpilledThePaint_GitEmSteveDave says:

    I think one look at or my inbox/spam folder is a clear example of how gullible the public in general is. I mean, look at the woo people buy into. Colon Cleansing, Detoxing, Jenny McCarthy, Bill Gates giving money away, How to please women, etc…

    • Megan Squier says:

      People are too stupid to be real. Reminds me of stories I’ve heard about actors who play not so likeable characters on TV shows getting hassled by ADULTS in public. I remember a story about Jason Hervey who played Wayne Arnold on “The Wonder Years” going to some sort of event and getting heckled by seemingly normal people. Something similar happened to Werner Klemperrer who played Col. Kilnk on “Hogan’s Heroes”. The funny thing is he was actually a Jew who had fled the rise of the Nazis and later served in the US Army entertainment corps in World War 2. If Col. Klink was really a Nazi the Germans would have probably shot him due to his ineptness anyway.

      What you see on TV is not real most of the time! I think our culture has a real problem distinguishing reality from fiction. Is this a sign of some sort of mass psychosis?

      • DayWeSpilledThePaint_GitEmSteveDave says:

        @Megan Squier: There’s an upside. I read a book written by The Professor on “Gilligans Island”, and he related a story where Alan Hale, the Skipper, was flying somewhere, and they landed in an airport. Well, a coup or something had broken out and the Army came and was pulling people off the plane. Then they saw him, and in broken English pointed and went “Skippah, Skippah”. They took some photos and they let the plane continue on.

        I have also heard stories about people who play criminals on America’s Most Wanted or other re-enactment shows, and they get reported/arrested because people think THEY are the criminals. The story I remember most was a lady who played a arsonist. She had to carry a note from AMW saying she was an actor, and not the person they did the piece on.

      • HogwartsAlum says:

        @Megan Squier:

        That would be a good subject for a psychology paper.

  14. dprboyne says:

    I don’t find this article all that surprising. It depends on the source of the information.

    If it’s a posting on the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s website about a crib recall, why wouldn’t I trust that it’s accurate? If it’s some crazy guy’s Youtube rant about how the world is going to end on New Year’s Day, I’m not going to be stocking up on extra bottled water and duct tape for my bomb shelter.

    Just like real life, the source dictates how much you should trust it. I don’t take medical advice from bums who live under the downtown bridge, but I would from my doctor. One is a more reliable source than the other.

  15. zyodei says:

    With the Internet, many people have some sort of bias, but that bias is generally out front. Thus, by reading a wide variety of news sources national and international with a variety of biases, one can piece together an idea of what is really going on.

    With traditional media, you generally have one source, and it claims to be completely objective and fair. But often, the reporters themselves aren’t even aware of their own bias. Or they just parrot the two party line, and thus they are objectively reporting the “news”. It is very difficult to check or verify anything you hear, and you only hear one or two sides of any issue.

    Not to mention the fact that mass media is beholden to corporations.

    This seems like a no brainer. If you don’t rely on the Internet as your #1 news source, you are living in the dark ages and there’s a pretty good chance that a lot of what you hold to be “fact” is half truth or completely wrong.

    • CheritaChen says:

      @zyodei: With the Internet, many people have some sort of bias, but that bias is generally out front…. With traditional media, you generally have one source, and it claims to be completely objective and fair.

      Absolutely. That’s why this “revelation” doesn’t shock me–the intelligent folks use discretion, and the less bright go on like they always have, believing whatever’s the most titillating to them, no matter the source. The danger of the latter is balanced by the drastically improved globalization of viewpoints available to the former. I hope.

  16. CaptainKidd says:

    Your arguments are strangely compelling.

    I suffer from the side effects of this. I have in-laws that are a sponge for wacky conspiracy theories and all sorts of amazing bu.. um, rumors and then they get mad when I reply to their “check this out!” emails with a link to Snopes. It has reduced the number of emails I get from them though. :D

    There’s a great saying I saw once: An open mind is like an open window, without a proper screen all sorts of garbage gets in.

    • DayWeSpilledThePaint_GitEmSteveDave says:

      @CaptainKidd: Yeah, there’s a fine line between trying to inform the ignorant, and coming off as a know-it-all.

      • CaptainKidd says:

        @DayWeSpilledThePaint_GitEmSteveDave: I try for the former, I really do. I kindly word the email, suggesting that they might want to look at the following Snopes link, etc., not just calling them an idiot and posting the link; but they treat it as if I did. One even going so far as to reply “what harm does it do if I believe this, it gives me hope.” That was to something that was actually a bit dangerous if they had actually tried it, can’t remember what though. At that point I gave up.

        • DayWeSpilledThePaint_GitEmSteveDave says:

          @CaptainKidd: I try to accentuate the correct points of the story/rumor, but point out the errors as well. Like “While it’s true Eddie O’Hare didn’t return to his carrier….. there are no witnesses to what actually happened to his plane”

        • HogwartsAlum says:


          I have to do that too. It’s really annoying. The most it does is keep people from mailing those to me (yaaay!) but I can’t seem to save them from themselves.

    • Megan Squier says:

      @CaptainKidd: Same thing with my MIL. She and her sisters trade forwarded e-mails like little kids trade head colds. I don’t think she reads into them too much though. My husband and I made one of her sisters REALLY mad once after we quickly debunked a rumor she had sent about a new coin not containing “In God We Trust” and sent our findings to EVERY person the message had been sent to. We even went to the bank, got the coin in question, took pictures of it showing where the “In God We Trust” was and enclosed those pictures in our debunking e-mail.

      The crazy thing is, this e-mail originated from a friend of this sister who worked as a teller at the SAME bank we’d gone to for the coin. She sent it from her work e-mail address and according to another person I knew from that bank, the woman could have gotten into BIG trouble for sending a non work related e-mail from her work address so she’s pretty lucky I didn’t send it to the branch manager. This woman has been the source of MANY stupid rumors in the past so the next time I get one that originated from her work address, I am going to contact her supervisor.

      We didn’t get too many forwarded e-mails after that! We weren’t rude with our approach; we wrote it like a newspaper retraction.

  17. Lisa Cebrian says:

    of course this is true! you could find ANY website that tailors to your opinions, regardless if they’re true, or if the site is a valuable source. this is not news consumerist.

  18. CapitalC says:

    If you’ve watched Zeitgeist, you’ll also know that much of the “conventional medial” isn’t true either.

  19. NoPornstar says:

    Problem with this is, now all the corporate jackholes are going to be hiring “professional consumers” and paid social networkers to post product endorsements and reviews for them all over the interwebs.

    Oh, wait

  20. SeanOHara says:

    I don’t believe this posting at all.

  21. Stephmo says:

    I’m not sure where all this discussion of news is coming from…the article was about product reviews.

    To break it down, you’ll believe the Internet if it tells you Progresso Soup is awesome moreso than an ad you catch on your local TV station.

    If you get a text on your phone, you’ll likely believe that Progresso soup sucks. If Grandma tells you that it’s awesome, that’s gold.

    What’s interesting is that for all the “trust” is that Amazon has a history of taking away negative reviews when a company presses them. And then there were the recent Yelp articles here on consumerist that seemed to show that one could buy a positive on-line rating ([]). When these kinds of shenanigans are going on with mainstream sites and the studies show that only Grandma is more trustworthy, this sort of takes away any “it’s no big deal” argument anyone has towards gaming internet reviews…

  22. Outrun1986 says:

    I generally try to aggregate the information when trying to form an opinion on something. If 10 people are saying the same thing about a product then its probably true. You have to look at multiple sources to get the truth, you can’t just rely on one. I always put my own needs first when shopping, but some information is always helpful. There are so many products out there that picking out something that meets your needs and will last would be tricky without online reviews. Don’t do your research and you will end up with a lemon.

  23. ChuckECheese says:

    Everything I’m about to say is pretty evident, but hey.

    When I look for online reviews, I ignore those that read as if written by ad writers and PR people. I look for specifics in reviews. “It’s great!” isn’t much of a review. But if the review is clear on why it’s great, then I might pay attention. I look for info in reputable sites, like … Consumerist. Yeah, the Consumerist.

  24. SigmundTheSeaMonster says:

    1. I am not a shill for Gawker media
    2. IMHO means in my honest opinion
    3. I 100% blindly trust many posted opinions, views, and blogs.

    One of the above is not true. Which one is it?

  25. BytheSea says:

    But are you — as an example — Consumerist guys really “unknown” to us? We listen to what you have to say every day, we hear your professional updates, we celebrate when you have successes, we’re fiercely protective of your blog, we take pictures of you from the bushes outside your home. And we know that when we reply to your posts, you read each and every one of our replies and only ours, because if there’s one thing a commenter knows, it’s that his/her replies are the best in all the threads.

    What I’m saying is, the internet creates an intimacy. bloggers ARE a known source. As readers, we select you as we would select our friends and we continue to read you because we put trust in your words and we’ve formed a bond. In the words of Fiddler, if that’s not love what is?

  26. Hybriddeathdealer says:

    The first rule of Sales, is that people will not buy what they do not know. Politicians and political media know this better than anyone. It’s amazing humans have survived this long. This comes from the cave people days when cave people sniffed each other’s butts. If they recognized the smell, then it must be a friend, but if it was some strange smell coming down the road, then kill it and be safe…
    SO, fast forward a blink in time and now you have PAC organizations paying to make sure your recognize your politicians smell. Oh, yes and if that politician is on your team, then the whole team emits a smell for you to recognize. So now you have media organizations like FoxNews & CNN, both emitting their perspective smells and their fans rallying around them…
    Personally, to me, America spent the last 10 years convincing themselves that crap smells like cake and we all better take a big bite. One side eats their smelly cake and the other side theirs. Meanwhile America is played like the idiotic morons they are…

  27. BearTack says:

    The net allows the user to immediately check on other sides of a story. If I am concerned about the bias in a story, I can go get alternative views, which are little more than a link away. I can’t do that with any other media. It seems that a lot of interesting tidbits are coming out about the mass media. Most recently, but not limited to, that some mass media does pay for play in granting access to reporters and media management.