Internet Users Are Naive, Says Report

Internet Users Are Naive, Says Report

The latest report from the Pew Internet & American Life Project shows that Internet search engine users are naive when it comes to the objectivity and use of search engines. According to the report, which was released Monday, internet users are generally unsophisticated and why and how they use search engines, and are unable to distinguish between a “sponsored” search result which is a result of paid placement and unpaid results. The study showed that only one in six users can tell the difference. However, despite the naivete, users overall were very happy with their search engine experience, with 87% saying they have had successful search experiences most of the time. The study is bound to raise issues with the conflict between paid search results and the perceived objectivity of search engine results, especially since 45% of search engine users said they would stop using search engines if they thought the engines weren’t being clear about offering some results for pay.

I guess this would explain the commenters who come here thinking that I am Britney Spears or Rev. Jesse Jackson.

Of course, as this CNet report on the study makes clear, the searchers aren’t necessarily looking for the latest scientific research results:

The study found that nearly 56 percent of Americans who are online use search engines on any given day–but about half the information they search for is trivial. The most popular searches for 2004 were dominated by popular culture, news events, trends and seasonal topics, all which are likely to return acceptable results.

Google’s top query for 2004 was “Britney Spears,” while America Online listed “horoscopes” as the most popular keyword. Most Yahoo users searched for “American Idol.”

If you’re looking for information on horoscopes, does it really matter what site you’re going to?

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Harry says:

    The report I heard went on to say that many users wanted the search engines to distinguish the sponsored results by putting them on a different part of the page, or highlighting them, or boldfacing the font. All of which are being done already. I’m tempted to lump these users with the people who were confused by infomercials when they first came out. “Caveat emptor” seems to apply.

  2. JakeV says:

    When I worked at a public library, I was told that the books most likely to be stolen from the shelves were those about astrology. I found that information very depressing.

  3. IR says:

    Color my jaded in my opinion of this report’s value. The Pew Research Center (and more specifically, Pew Internet and American Life Project) is a collective of “ex” as well as current big media participants. For example, the team leader on this project was Deborah Fallows (Deb has written many pieces about education, health, families and work, and travel for The Atlantic Monthly, National Geographic, The LA Times Magazine, Newsweek, US New & World Report, The Washington Post and The Washington Monthly…)

    I wouldn’t expect much in the way of complimentary results from Pew. Even their advisory board is filled to the brim with media hounds.

    PS: I used non-placed links of a search engine in forming this opinion…I may be a knave, but I’m not naive…