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Pictures in blogs: The influence on credibility and perception

Page history last edited by stephan 11 years, 9 months ago

     Blogs have always been fighting for credibility and authenticity. The author does not have a big company with an established reputation and credibility behind him, but has to present himself and build credibility through means of his blog. How do pictures influence the credibility, authenticity and the perception of a blog? I will use the Milblog “Army of Dude” (URL) as an example to answer this question.

 

First a distinction of how credibility and authenticity are used: Authenticity is used to describe if the readers of a certain blog believe in the existence of the author, and his intention to tell his story. Credibility is used to describe if the "believability" of the facts and situations presented in the blog is high enough to be accepted by the readers. Both expressions are very close and intertwined, but should not be taken for one and the same thing.

 

How is credibility created on the web?

According to the Stanford Web Credibility Research a web site’s credibility depends on 10 guidelines. Some of these can also be applied to blogs:

 

  1. Make it easy to verify the information on your site
  2. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.
  3. Make it to be easy to contact you.
  4. Choose a professional design for your site.
  5. Make your site easy to use - and useful.
  6. Update your site’s content often.
  7. Avoid errors of all types.

 

(The other 3 guidelines are rather meant for representational web sites of corporations, source)

 

Pictures & Credibility of a Blog

     Pictures carry a very high amount of credibilitx, they thus strengthen point 1 of these guidelines. The picture itself often verifies the information given in the related blog-post. An example for this is the “Army of Dude” post on November 23, 2007 . He is re-telling a day of his deployment in Iraq, talking about a destroyed car and shoes with shot-off heals next to it.

The readers decision to believe this story or not is influenced by several factors:

 

  • The presentation of the blog
  • The credibility of this post
  • The credibility of the blog over all
  • The authenticity of the author 

 

     It is very hard for the author to build credibility if the reader only gets the author’s words for it. But the moment the author presents a picture of this situation, shoes torn in pieces lying in a street next to a demolished car, the believability of the post is extremely strengthened. There my still be doubts about the authenticity of the picture, but according to the lex of parsimoniae the reader will choose the simplest theory - thus prefering the theory that this event happened as told, rather than a conspiracy theory of how the picture has been manipulated.

     However, the manipulation of pictures has diminished its credibility. Ever since the Russian’s capturing of the Berlin “Reichstag”, photo-manipulation has been a hot topic. Thanks to photoshop it’s very easy to manipulate photographs with very little knowledge. One prominent example of manipulation is the picture of Brian Walski printed in the Times on March 31. A British soldier was helping Iraqi civilians find cover outside of Basra. The photo staff of the Times discovered that he combined two images taken only seconds apart - several Iraqis in the background appeared twice in the picture.

     In the context of image-manipulation, John Long, chairman of the ethics and standards committe of the National Press Photographers Association, said: “The puclib is losing faith in us. Without credibility, we have nothing; we cannot survive,” pointing at the importance of credibility especialy for photography - because pictures strengthen the overall credibility of a news post, a blog entry, or other types of jorunalism.

 

Authenticity of a Blog

 

     Some Blogs suffer under the allegation, they are not “authentic”, but created by corporations or governments to influence readers. “Army of Dude” is a blog that isn’t under this suspicion. It provides such a  flood of information, about the authors private life, his life in the army and so on. He is also using pictures to reinforce his authenticity.

Some of the guidelines mentioned earlier don't only apply to credibility but also to authenticity:

 

  1. Make it easy to verify the information on your site
  2. Show that honest and trustworthy people stand behind your site.
  3. Make it to be easy to contact you.

 

The more details and sources are given on the blog, and the easier those are verifyable, the more authenticity is yielded to the author. One of the easiest ways to make such details verifyable are pictures. Alex, the author of "Army of Dude" creates authenticty through several means:

 

  • He is easy to contact: His eMail adress is right at the top of his blog
  • There are pictures of him all over the blog, for example in the post on December 03, 2007 or on the top of his blog
  • He is disclosing a lot of his personal life, especially concerning his relationship to Lauren, for example in his post on October 12, 2007

 

 

Pictures & Perception of the blog

     One of the strongest influence of pictures, is that the reader immediately gets an image of how everything looks, how charged a situation is. The author of the blog doesn’t have to convey everything, because the images added to his post transfer a huge amount of action, the situation and emotions. An example are the pictures in the post of November 19, 2007: Alex is describing the moment: “Machine guns opened up on a house, starting a fire. Following the tracers, everyone fired in that direction, assuming it was an enemy position. Grenades were dropping in front and in back of the house. In the parking lot, guns were firing toward the same house. All of a sudden, a fuel tanker inside the wire started to burn.” After scrolling down a bit and looking at the following pictures, military trucks, a fire in the background of the picture, the image blurred by the running motion of the photographer - The reader is drawn into the situation, and the action of the moment is transfered onto him.

 

Moving pictures

 

Movies are a special type of pictures. Most of what was said above applies to movies as well as to photographs. However there are differences:

 

  • Movies are harder to be manipulated -> have a higher credibility
  • Movies carry sound. This can be used to draw the reader stronger into the situation
  • Sound can also convey situations that wouldn't work on a photograph. An example is the allusion to Pink Floyd in the "Army of Dude" post on Dezember, 10. This story about driving through Iraq playing Pink Floyd on the truck's speakers would have hardly worked without the movie's sound.

 

However movies have advantages over photographs, due to several disadvantages, they aren’t used in blogs very often. Some of this disadvantages are the higher processing effort after captureing, the higher amount of data and bandwith required to post them on blogs, and the smaller resoltion compared to photographs.

An example how a movie can give the reader a very strong impression how a situation really was, can be seen in the post of November 19, 2007 in the bottom part: A picture of a soldier shooting out of a window would never create such tension and carry as much atmosphere as the video does.

 

Bibliography:

Horton, Alex. "Army of Dude". http://armyofdude.blogspot.com/. 31.08.2008

LA Times. "Photographs by Walski". http://www.latimes.com/search/dispatcher.front?Query=Walski+&target=blendedsearch&first-page-size=5. 31.08.2008

Stanford Web Credibility Research. http://credibility.stanford.edu/. 31.08.2008

Daily Mail Online. "How iconic photo of Russians raising flag over burning Berlin was airbrushed to save soldier from Stalin's rage". http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-564643/How-iconic-photo-Russians-raising-flag-burning-Berlin-airbrushed-save-soldier-Stalins-rage.html. 31.08.2008

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