Incivility, Source and Credibility: An Experimental Test of News Story Processing in the Digital Age

The “civility crisis” has been a big concern in the U.S. and abroad at least since the 1990s. Evidence suggested that uncivil attacks in political discourse have a negative impact on political trust. Administering an online survey with an experiment embedded in it, the study seeks to find out whether source and uncivil commentary in a news story have an effect on the level of credibility of a news story. A 3 (Source: newspaper, blog, student’s class writing) x 2 (Incivility: civil and uncivil) mixed subjects design online survey was administered via Qualtrics on a sample of students (N = 438) in a large Midwestern State University. The data suggested incivility was a significant predictor of news credibility, including message credibility and news organization credibility. A negative association was found between perceived incivility and news credibility.