Wikipedia: an opportunity to rethink the links between sources’ credibility, trust and authority

Authors : Gilles Sahut, André Tricot

The Web and its main tools (Google, Wikipedia, Facebook, Twitter) deeply raise and renew fundamental questions, that everyone asks almost every day: Is this information or content true? Can I trust this author or source?

These questions are not new, they have been the same with books, newspapers, broadcasting and television, and, more fundamentally, in every human interpersonal communication.

This paper is focused on two scientific problems on this issue. The first one is theoretical: to address this issue, many concepts have been used in library and information sciences, communication and psychology.

The links between these concepts are not clear: sometimes two concepts are considered as synonymous, sometimes as very different. The second one is historical: sources like Wikipedia deeply challenge the epistemic evaluation of information sources, compared to previous modes of information production.

This paper proposes an integrated and simple model considering the relation between a user, a document and an author as human communication. It reduces the problem to three concepts: credibility as a characteristic granted to information depending on its truth-value; trust as the ability to produce credible information; authority when the power to influence of an author is accepted, i.e., when readers accept that the source can modify their opinion, knowledge and decisions.

The model describes also two kinds of relationships between the three concepts: an upward link and a downward link. The model is confronted with findings of empirical research on Wikipedia in particular.