This research examines trustworthiness assessments of other people within the online environments of social networking sites and the processes that are in place during those evaluations. By undertaking an exploratory qualitative study focused on Hyves, LinkedIn and IBM’s Beehive, trustworthiness assessments and the effects of trustworthiness cues were analyzed.
It can be concluded that social networking sites offer valuable possibilities for trustworthiness assessments. The results suggest that these online assessments have little to do with the simplistic view of merely using online ratings, testimonials and/or recommendations. By exploring an integrative trustworthiness framework, it became clear that these processes are influenced by various factors, especially since the boundaries between offline and online connections are blurring and the self-posted information and identities on social networking sites are perceived as authentic. As such, the trustworthiness dimensions within social networking sites do not differ from dimensions in real life. Users of social networking sites do have an implicit and deliberate arrangement of trustworthiness assessments, based on indications of ability, integrity, benevolence and social dimensions.
Due to trustworthiness its multidimensional character, various aspects influence assessments within social networking sites. The personal characteristics of the trustor (e.g. culture, media schemata, assumptions) bias the setup of mental images significantly. Furthermore, the trustworthiness, perception and dependency of the social networking site its context influence personal evaluations and acting within these sites as well. The cognitive trust aspect explains most of the variance in trusting beliefs. This aspect was primarily shaped by the influential presences and effects of specific trustworthiness cues. These effects were affected by real life experiences and reflections, and the context and goal of the social networking site. Last, social networking sites their design, features and functionality have a significant impact on trustworthiness assessments and the influential presence of cues as well.
The study thus enhances theory about trust within computer-mediated communications, sketches surrounding themes that influence trustworthiness assessments and gives an overview of the value of trust cues within social networking sites. As such, it creates opportunities for further research to apply similar studies on a large scale to deepen and generalize its findings.