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Trust and Communication: Foundations of Interconnectivity

Anil Jacob Kunnel

In today’s global and digitalized world, the investigation of relational trust as part of social connections has remained a popular and interdisciplinary academic topic. This book explores the idea of trust as a basic type of information processing that might be as old as human existence but has gained new attention with the emergence of online communication channels. The result is a strategic reconsideration of the brain’s role in the formation of social relationships and a new look at how information might shape our confidence in others.

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1 Social Relationships and Trust

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1 Social Relationships and Trust

Seven Assumptions on Their Formation and Their Role in Human Communication Networks

Evolution and communication networks are both branching processes, with the difference that speciation is in the business of making DIS-connections, while communication networks (electrical, chemical, whatever) are in the business of making (and maintaining) connections. (Kelly & Dyson, 2009, para. 14)

In correspondence with journalist Kevin Kelly, historian of technology George Dyson addresses the close relation between evolution and the emergence of communication networks that he previously explored in his book Darwin Among the Machines (Dyson, 1999). According to Dyson, although evolution produces greater diversity between living beings, communication networks hold this diversity together by making (or maintaining) connections. Thus, evolution and communication networks are tied together through a very specific symbiotic relation; they cannot exist without each other. Following Dyson, both are essential prerequisites for any growth in human knowledge and the emergence of a larger global intelligence.1 Without evolution, human beings could not have developed the ability to process, comprehend, and apply complex types of knowledge. Without the development of human communication networks,2 they could not have learned to exchange and distribute this knowledge in ways more sophisticated than face-to-face interaction. Together, both processes ensured that human beings could mentally evolve as individuals—but were, at the same time, integrated into larger social structures.

The general idea of people connecting in larger communication networks has not only found its way into the scientific discourse—especially in areas of research that make use of (social) network theories (cf. Granovetter, 1983)—but has also become part of the general public awareness. Today, with digital ←21 | 22→infrastructures that have produced global networks capable of instantly connecting large parts of the world, the idea of human communication networks is more relevant than ever. The increasing use of social media with its “friends,” “likes,” and “comments,” has further invigorated the awareness that we are all connected (cf. Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010). Considering that the world as we know it is moving closer to widespread globalization, many people might struggle whenever their ability to produce thoughts and exchange information is dependent on sophisticated communication structures. As Giddens (1990) has argued, modern societies have become more fragmented and their structuration and social relations have become increasingly abstract. The rapid pace of change in communication infrastructures and networks as part of highly digitized societies represents both a significant challenge and an opportunity. The more complex the network, the more mental effort must the individual exert to comprehend the number of connections.

One of the most intuitive ways an individual can make sense of such connections is through the often subconscious experience of a social relationship. Such perception usually entails a sense of relatedness, togetherness, and affiliation and can be considered a sufficient foundation for any exchange of information. It gives an individual the instant impression of a consistent and reliable connection to another social actor and can provide a meaningful social tie as well as a subjective sense of predictability. In referring to linkages between two or more social actors, this book will mainly use two terms: social relationships and social ties. In contrast to the notion of “social ties” (which highlights the general idea that, from an external perspective, two or more actors are in some way related through any linkage, that they interact, and may have a sense of reciprocity), the idea of a “social relationship” signifies the existence of a process within the subjective and internal experience of a single individual that generates a sense of relatedness with an interactant.

While the individual experience of such relationships is highly subjective, it provides a powerful source of social structure and human bonding for any human communication network. If we consider Dyson’s comments on the symbiotic relation between human evolution and communication networks, the ability to internally experience social relationships may even provide certain evolutionary advantages, as it can alter an individual’s personal information channels through the impression that some connections are more meaningful or intense than others. Moreover, if two members of a human communication network experience themselves to be in relationship with each other, this may directly affect their exchange and processing of information. Even if only one of the two members experienced a relationship to the other, such a mental ←22 | 23→connection could provide a highly efficient and powerful (albeit unidirectional) information channel within a network.

Because of this, we should approach any sense of relatedness, even a negative one, as an aspect of how people connect with each other and organize themselves in larger groups or networks. Such an abstract perspective can be particularly pertinent to highly digitized societies, in which the human ability to experience social relationships may also contribute significantly to what Dyson (1999) refers to as global intelligence. It allows us to depict something that (at first sight) appears to be highly subjective and intuitive as something with a common operating principle.

So, what exactly drives individuals to the experience of social relationships? Why do they, often subconsciously, connect with each other? Most of us have observed that some individuals get along with each other better than they do with others. Some people just happen to like each other more based on their degree of shared sympathy. It is a huge part of our experience as human beings to collaborate and bond with others—and to experience positive emotions, a sense of togetherness, or intimacy in the context of these interactions. Although we may associate this with social benefits, the experience of a social relationship is not restricted only to positive outcomes. For example, we could have strong dismissive feelings for another person, perhaps because of a bad encounter or a first impression. This aversion may even reach levels of sheer hatred, which arise whenever we meet or think of that person. In such cases, we may avoid any further contact with that person, or come to an encounter with him3 prepared for conflict. Just like the experience of shared sympathy and friendliness, the aversion is also the result of a sense of relatedness, one in which we have built a negative connection with this person.

Relationships that are perceived as either entirely positive or negative may be the exception, though, and should be understood as the two extremes of a broad spectrum. In most scenarios, the experience of social relationships is a highly dynamic process that cannot be broken down or explained easily. It can frequently change—often to the extent that we experience the relationship as arbitrary or unpredictable. In our subjective perception, social relationships can become stronger or weaker and more or less intense or meaningful as time ←23 | 24→passes. They can be both rewarding and disappointing. We may be uncertain or entirely confused about the future of a relationship and the need to coordinate further action, or in other circumstances, we may be quite sure that the relationship is somewhat stable. As Lewicki, McAllister, and Bies (1998) have illustrated, the idea of experiencing a social relationship has remained a rather elusive concept, one that, scientifically speaking, is still open to interpretation and discussion, as researchers have only pieced together a small part of why individuals connect with (or disconnect from) each other.

In general, we can assume that the formation and experience of social relationships emerge from many kinds of interactions. They can develop as part of family ties, romantic relations, professional collaborations, student-teacher-mentorships, group interactions, or long-term friendships; and they may arise from either long- or short-term encounters. They can constitute themselves not only through direct interaction with others but also through social networks, groups, and large collective entities like institutions, organizations, and even whole nations. With this complexity in mind, it is not surprising that many scholars have shown interest in the issue of trust as a component of the overall experience of social relationships. While trust does not represent the process of experiencing social relationships in its entirety, it plays a significant part in how we relate to other social actors. In this regard, an evaluation and analysis of trust can help us to better understand the general operating principle behind the experience of social relationships and the personal meaning that one specific relationship has for an individual. Arguably, there is no trust without the experience of a social relationship, and vice versa.

To deal with this level of interdependency and the variety of approaches regarding trust and the experience of social relationships, I will first approach the basic concept of a social relationship from a more fundamental and communication-centric perspective. As an epistemological foundation and starting point to further theory building, I propose seven general assumptions about the formation and general features of social relationships that will also help us to better understand trust.

Assumption 1

Social relationships are a product of our individual experience.

The first thing that all types of social relationships have in common is that they can be captured only through an individual’s subjective experience. From an ←24 | 25→outsider’s perspective, there is no such thing as a neutral and objective entity that we can call a social relationship. We might observe that two people have known each other for a long time or even appear to be in an intimate relationship with each other. However, the only way to find out what kind of relationship is at play is through each individual’s own experience of it. If we separately ask each person what defines their relationship, we might get two different answers. For instance, one may describe the relationship as rather formal, while the other may interpret it as close and intimate. Based on these two different testimonies alone, it would be difficult for us to capture the overarching characteristics of that social tie, as it may involve two entirely different experienced realities.

Because of this, it makes sense to talk about social relationships only if we talk about the way people individually process their social environments. Whenever we speak of a group of people and their relationships toward each other, we can ask only how each member experiences this relationship as an individual.

Assumption 2

The experience of a social relationship requires the dyadic processing of a tie.

Beyond their subjective processing, people can only experience social relationships toward social actors that they regard as equally singular interactants. This could be another individual, but it could also be a larger systemic actor. In extreme cases, such a dyadic view may result in the experience of a large institution or organization as a single interactant. While some might consider this a rather irrational view, it is a common reality, for example, for citizens who frequently declare their trust or distrust in government or the press.4

What all experiences of social relationships have in common is that an individual experiences the other side as a unified and singular interactant who is considered to have a singular mind and free will. Behind this observation stands the more general idea that people are able to frame their entire social environment through the lens of dyadic ties. A social relationship experienced with a large institution does not follow a different operating principle than ←25 | 26→the experience of a relationship with another individual, as both actors are processed as distinct singular entities.

Thus, although any individual experience of a social relationship might be unique, we can assume all are based on a similar dyadic experience and operating principle: An individual with a distinct sense of self processes another actor (another individual, group, or community) as a singular entity with its own sense of self. From this perspective, each person’s experience of a dyadic relationship has an identical function and may (for better or worse) directly affect the quality of interaction with other social actors. Especially in situations in which people need to deal with high levels of complexity in their social environment, any experience of a dyadic relation may be highly beneficial, as it may help them to engage or disengage more fluently with their interactants. For instance, certain information can appear more credible or comprehensible if it comes from a source that we personally know or feel related to as part of a tie.5 The processing of dyadic relations, then, can be understood as an implicit and intuitive way that individuals make sense of their environment.

Assumption 3

The experience of a social relationship relies on communicational exchanges and sensory input.

On a very basic level, we must assume that an individual can experience a social relationship with another actor only if he is (generally) aware of this interactant and processes information about him. This should not suggest that, conversely, people necessarily experience a social relationship to anyone they are aware of; it suggests only the necessity of an informational input for such an experience. Social relationships—the sense of relatedness—are not only the result of an individual’s personal capacities; they are equally a result of what is communicated (and received, or mentally processed) about the interactant. For this reason, social relationships cannot be defined entirely as internal but depend also on the input of external information. Without such an information flow, the mind could not experience the immediacy of a relationship with others.

What all of this suggests is that the experience of a social relationship can potentially “fail” if the communication and information processing behind it do not function properly. This does not mean there is an ideal way of ←26 | 27→communicating and processing social relationships; it suggests only that such communication and processing may be exposed to disruptions and errors and that a feeling of relatedness with other social actors may depend heavily on what is communicated by (or about) them. In this regard, we can understand the experience of social relationships as part of a communicational exchange between an individual and his interactant, because at least some kind of information must be exchanged in order to experience such a relationship toward an interactant.

Communicational exchanges may happen in direct copresence, but they can also be initiated where there is a complete lack of direct copresence (by word-of-mouth, for example, or using other communication media). For most of the 20th century, the option of experiencing mediated relationships was limited largely to such public media as newspapers, radio, and television or to the more personal sphere of telephone conversations and the exchange of letters. Considering the rapid change in information and communication technologies and their impact on our professional and private lives, we can safely conclude that our idea of what constitutes a social relationship has changed with each introduction of new communication media that offer new types of information flow and sensory input (cf. Assumption 5).

Assumption 4

Every experience of a social relationship follows the same logic and can be analyzed through a unified perspective.

In the traditional psychological discourse, social relationships are distinguished as either “real” or “illusionary” parasocial relationships (cf. Kumar & Benbasat, 2002; Schramm & Hartmann, 2008). While the literature on parasocial relationships often suggests that these relationships are of a secondary nature (for example, relationships to public actors such as celebrities and politicians or to institutional actors like large corporations), it might be more helpful to avoid distinctions between primary and secondary relationships. If, for instance, an individual experiences a profound sense of connectedness toward a political candidate, the experience of this relationship might be as existential to his life as his “real” relationship to a family member. While there may be qualitative differences in how we experience social relationships that are based on direct copresence versus those based on mediated communication channels, one could assume that in both cases, and irrespective of the medium, individuals process information about their interactants in very similar ways.

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This is also of importance whenever we are confronted with the often-stated difference between online and offline relationships. Some scholars assume that the Internet, or World Wide Web, should be considered an alternate place that works differently from the “real” world. As Morozov (2013) has argued, such a distinction is highly problematic, as it suggests that the rules of social interaction follow an entirely different logic in this “new,” artificial-world experience of social relationships. However, it seems fair to assume that most human beings are somewhat reliant on social interaction and the experience of social relationships. These bonds may be based on copresent interaction—but they might also heavily rely on mediated interactions.

As a rather extreme example, for a very religious person who believes in the existence of a monotheistic god, the experience of this god as a social actor can be very real to him and perceived as part of an ongoing (parasocial) tie—if he is provided with actor-specific information. Arguably, the experience of such a unique relationship does not follow an entirely different logic than the experience of a relationship to a good friend or a family member. And it would not follow a different logic if we experienced it using digital communication technologies. In the end, a social relationship is what an individual perceives it to be based on the exchange of information, whether he processes information from online sources or direct copresence. For this reason, a unified concept of what the experience of social relationships is made of, how it is constituted, and how it progress is needed.

Still, it is difficult to deny that our experience of social relationships is confronted with certain challenges in social environments that increasingly rely on digital communication. With the large variety of online services and the ubiquity of smartphone and desktop applications, we are confronted with a growing list of opportunities to connect remotely with other people in a global environment. Popular innovations include instant messaging, social networking, video-chat, live-streaming, content-sharing, online dating, collaborative consumption, and crowd-funding services, as well as collaborative online forums and consumer-to-consumer retailers—to name just a few (cf. Botsman & Rogers, 2011). Various scholars have noted that social networking technologies can help both individuals and groups or organizations extend their social environment effectively (Castells, 2012; Faloutsos, Karagiannis, & Moon, 2010; Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010; Kneidinger, 2010). Most importantly, communication networks marked by a high level of digital channels impact not only how their users experience social relationships to other actors but also with whom those social relationships are experienced.

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Assumption 5

Digital communication technologies have produced new social resonance spaces for the experience of social relationships.

Given the close relation between the introduction of innovative communication media and the emergence of new social practices, it seems reasonable to assume that a shift in communication media would stimulate a change in how individuals relate to each other. In the end, any new communication environment produces a new sensory space for the experience of social relationships, providing new information input—and with this a new mindset for human consciousness to make and experience social connections. For example, the introduction of the printing press prompted a new set of social relationships to social actors who could now be experienced through the reception of printed newspapers or books. The same applies to the introduction of letter writing or the telephone, both of which introduced new opportunities for experiencing relationships and connecting with other social actors. We might apply a similar logic to the introduction of digital communication technologies.

In most of the literature, digitization has been explored more as a technological than a social achievement (cf. Kelly, 2010). Usually, the social changes are thought to occur because of the technological ones. For instance, technologies like smartphones and online social networking applications are seen as having set up new social norms. Yet, social changes cannot be defined as merely the result of technological changes, since societal transformations and the introduction of innovative technologies are often symbiotic in nature (cf. Innis, 1972). Indeed, the introduction of new communication technologies does not appear out of the blue but addresses specific social needs, such as the need to exchange knowledge, gain economic efficiency in transactional processes, or connect with other human beings. To support this idea, it is helpful to refer to the analytical distinction used by some scholars (cf. Brennen & Kreiss, 2016) between digitization and digitalization. In the context of my argumentation, digitization refers to the process of converting, sending, and receiving analog streams of information into digital bits (preferably binary numbers) with the help of electronic devices that share the same code and language system (cf. Dyson, 1999). At its core, and from a sociological perspective, digitization creates a technological foundation for human connectivity. Because digital information can be stored, shared, and distributed to scores of people (cf. Nassehi, 2015), individuals can exchange information and communicate more frequently and efficiently if communication networks are digitized.

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Precursors of digitization—such as the Morse code—existed long before the invention of modern computerized devices (cf. Krippendorff & Bermejo, 2010). With the rise of computer-mediated communication and the emergence of online communication, the process of digitization has grown in significance. As information spaces such as the World Wide Web have become powerful information resources, more and more individuals are using digital communication channels to connect with each other. Above all, digitization can be understood as a form of technological progress that allows human beings to connect and communicate with less effort and greater efficiency.

Digitalization, on the other hand, can be used to refer to the social change that evolves in symbiosis with ongoing digitization—such as the formation of new types of human communication networks or new social routines (Brennen & Kreiss, 2016). It also refers to the increasing reliance on digitized environments that many people experience in their daily lives. As a concept, it allows us to explain why people who do not use digital technologies themselves may be still affected by the social consequences of digitization and may profit from (or be harmed by) them indirectly (cf. Kunnel, 2009). Modern technologies increasingly shape the professional and personal routines of many people, even if they do not actively use them; this refers not only to the adoption of digital communication channels but also to the growing wariness toward such channels that some people feel.

The concept of digitalization allows us to (lexically) address specific social changes (such as the experience of social relationships) associated with a highly digitized world without the need to rely on technological determinism. In many areas, people have accommodated to the use of digital communication channels to keep in touch with friends and family, seek new jobs, rent rooms for their next vacation, or arrange romantic encounters (cf. B. Hogan, Li, & Dutton, 2011). While placement and matchmaking services existed long before the introduction of digital communication channels, the idea of connecting with another person has never been as personalized and easy-to-use as it is with today’s digital technologies (cf. Tanz, 2014). For many users, the social networking services on their smartphones and personal computers have worked as an entrance gate to digitalized navigation of their social lives and may further alter their social experience. Even if the digital distribution of actor-related information has frequently been associated with a number of serious issues, including reasonable concerns about users’ privacy (cf. Moll, Pieschl, & Bromme, 2014), more people have started to use these technologies or have at least become aware of them in their daily lives (cf. Tanz, 2014). All of this might ←30 | 31→further impact how people socially relate to and interact with each other—and how they experience social relationships.

Assumption 6

The experience of social relationships in digitalized environments may greatly affect the way individuals intuitively exchange and process information.

As I have noted, any experience of a social relationship offers a robust foundation for the exchange of information. It can be easier for two actors to exchange information if they sense that they are in a relationship—as it may offer a degree of familiarity, a feeling of security, and a sense of relatedness (or, if the relationship is negatively connoted, the complete opposite). Information can feel more credible if it comes from a person we feel positively related to (and more incredible if it comes from someone we feel negatively related to)—and it might also be filtered, exchanged, and processed accordingly.6 Taking all of this into account, the experience of social relationships in digitalized environments may greatly affect the way individuals intuitively exchange and process information. Especially in situations marked by an overload of information, such experience may help individuals deal with a high degree of complexity.

Following the first five assumptions, we can assume that the experience of social relationships now plays a very significant and somewhat necessary role in the digitalization of modern societies. If we consider George Dyson’s notion of the ongoing symbiosis between human evolution and the emergence of human communication channels, the ability of human beings to experience social relationships through mediated structures can be best understood as part of an interface connecting these two processes. From a communication-centric perspective, the experience of a social relationship can be framed as an implicit internal process that reduces the informational complexity of one’s social environment by producing the impression that some connections are more reliable and meaningful than others (see Fig. 1.1).

To make such connections with others, human consciousness is normally accompanied by a distinct sense of self. Only if a person has a sophisticated ←31 | 32→sense of his own identity can he see himself as part of a larger human communication network, and only if he is aware of the social environment can he get a better sense of himself. In many parts of our lives, we need to make decisions as individuals as well as act as social beings connected to a wider communication network. Whenever we experience a social relationship to another social actor, both a sense of self and the awareness of one’s social environment appear to be equally relevant.

A preliminary conclusion at this point is that any experience of a social relationship, even though it can be considered highly subjective, is likely to follow a shared operating principle because of these social dimensions. A working definition can be articulated as follows: The experience of a social relationship is ←32 | 33→an internal, implicit process that is activated by the information flow between two interactants and leads to the individual experience of a meaningful dyadic relation toward the other actor.7

As more and more digital communication channels are integrated into our daily lives, they often work as extensions to our existing communication channels, but they may also confront us with types of social relationships with which we have not been familiar before.8 Taking this into account, a sense of relatedness—whether achieved through a feeling of togetherness or aversion—can profoundly impact how individuals consume and exchange information and further interact with each other in digitalized environments (cf. van Dijck, 2013). Especially today, many modern technologies and digital applications offer users new ways of connecting with each other. Still, these same users often struggle with one specific component that seems quite essential to the experience of relationships—trust. As Tanz (2014) has noted, the issue of trust has become a major concern in the emergence of digital environments, as many types of interactions (for instance renting out one’s apartment to a stranger with the help of a social media application) may not be possible without the presence of trust. On a general level, this may apply not only to specific services but also, and perhaps even more so, to the general experience of digital social resonance spaces.

Following Tanz’s argumentation, trust serves a particular function in the experience and maintenance of social ties, as it allows individuals to apply their sense of relatedness to actual social interactions. This function may be particularly relevant for the adoption of conductional routines that, at first sight, appear dangerous or unconventional (such as collaborative-consumption websites or applications that, for instance, allow users to rent out their apartment to strangers).

Assumption 7

Trust is a functional component of the individual experience of social relationships.

Not surprisingly, there has been significant growth in the amount of economic and scientific attention paid to the concept of trust in the emergence ←33 | 34→of digital social resonance spaces, since digital interactions are often associated with great predictive uncertainties. In online interactions, individuals are often confronted with high levels of complexity and information overload (cf. Beaudoin, 2008; Eppler & Mengis, 2004) and may struggle to develop a real sense of relatedness (cf. von Kaenel, 2013). However, uncertainties are also often highly relevant whenever users experience new opportunities and benefits in interacting with others.

Without a level of trust, the dynamics of social interactions can quickly change as the result of a single disruption or the coming to light of delicate new information, as is the case with public, government, or corporate scandals (cf. Schoorman, Mayer, & Davis, 2007, p. 344), which are particularly dependent on the mediated distribution of information. In this regard, both trust and the experience of social relationships serve as internal foundations of interconnectivity, which is defined in the context of this book as the ability of an individual’s consciousness to develop an internal sense of relatedness and connectivity with other social actors. Both trust and the social experience of relatedness enable highly efficient information exchanges and motivate social interactions and, as Lewicki (2003) has noted, seem to result from the same source—a sense of “shared identity” with another social actor (see Fig. 1.2).

Although scientific research has offered numerous insights in various fields of study (such as philosophy, sociology, psychology, and economics), it is still not clear how trust is initiated and constituted on a very basic level (cf. Lewicki, Tomlinson, & Gillespie, 2006). We still do not know exactly what trust is and how it is tied to the general experience of social relationships; what we do know is that it produces some kind of confidence and is associated with a degree of vulnerability in social interactions (cf. R. C. Mayer, Davis, & Schoorman, 1995). So far, the literature has mostly provided rather vague ideas of how trust operates and how it accompanies the experience of social relationships. In many cases, it is thought of as a “gut feeling,” or conceptualized as a reduction ←34 | 35→of social complexity, or expressed through metaphors such as “social glue” (cf. Blöbaum, 2014, p. 14). Specific research on the linkage between trust, communication, and information processing (especially in the context of ongoing digitization and digitalization) is still very rare, even though there is a growing interest in the role of trust in communication-related areas such as journalism studies (Kohring & Matthes, 2012), media psychology (Flanagin & Metzger, 2007), and social network analysis (Golbeck, 2013; Quandt, 2012).

In Chapter 2, I will review the extensive cross-disciplinary body of literature on trust and argue that trust is linked to the social experience of relatedness and that, in most approaches to trust, communication is considered a significant element in its emergence. As we will see, the idea of trust has become a popular factor in a variety of scientific fields and has experienced a broad, and sometime confusing, history of research. For this reason, the following chapter mostly serves as an excursus that allows us to use the existing knowledge on trust (and the general nature of social relationships) for a further exploration of their shared communicational foundation.

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1 According to Dyson (1999), the term global intelligence addresses the idea of a growing interconnected knowledge resource that has evolved from a convergence of biological and technological progress.

2 Following Fuhse (2009), I will use the concept human communication networks to refer to networks that are constituted by communication channels in which one tie is defined by a communicational relation (rather than by physical interaction) between nodes.

3 Adapting Steven Pinker’s (2014) recommendations on nonsexist language (pp. 255–262), I have alternately used the pronouns he, him and his and she, her and hers throughout the text. Exceptions occur when a specific reference or examples requires it.

4 Most recently, the German term Lügenpresse [lying press] has attracted much attention, as it can be used to refer to the press as a singular entity in a derogatory way (cf. Connolly, 2015).

5 See Chapter 7 for a further elaboration on how our trust can impact the comprehension of the news.

6 One good example to illustrate this is the spreading of news on social media. Breaking news such as terrorist attacks or natural disasters might appear much more immediate if shared by friends online. However, our friends might not always be reliable, nor are the news sources whose articles or videos they are sharing with us (cf. Holcomb, Gottfried, Mitchell, & Schillinger, 2013; Mitchell, Kiley, Gottfried, & Guskin, 2013).

7 See Chapter 4 for a more specific definition.

8 A good example of this is the online sharing economy, which commoditizes its users’ personal belongings, such as apartments, cars, and clothing, so that they can be shared and acquired by other users (cf. Botsman & Rogers, 2011; Hissen, 2014; Weitzman, 1984).