The social context of media trust: A network influence model

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Concerns about the low public trust in U.S. media institutions have recently deepened amid increasing partisan polarization, large-scale digital disinformation campaigns, and frequent attacks on the press from political elites. This study explored the social factors that shape our trust in mainstream news sources. An examination of longitudinal network data from 13 residential student communities highlighted the importance of interpersonal influence on views about the media. The results show that the media trust of participants was predicted by the trust scores of their online and offline social contacts. The most robust and consistent effect comes from face-to-face interactions with politically like-minded conversation partners. Among online social ties, the analysis found effects from contact with others who distrust the media, but not from communication with people who reported high levels of media trust.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)539-562
Number of pages24
JournalJournal of Communication
Issue number5
StatePublished - Dec 1 2019

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Communication
  • Language and Linguistics
  • Linguistics and Language


  • Mass communication
  • Media trust
  • Political communication
  • Social contagion
  • Social influence
  • Social network
  • Tie strength


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