What is it about?

An important part of what makes a message relevant to us is that we trust the communicator to be both competent (= having pertinent expertise) and benevolent (= having our interest at heart by being honest). But when messages occur on online platforms, we often do know the communicators, and therefore have few or no resources to judge either their competence or their benevolence. In order to help create credibility for communicators on platforms, these latter sometimes make use of certain trust-enhancing algorithms. In this chapter we use TripAdvisor as an example to illustrate how the platform helps the reader to assess a communicator's trustworthiness.

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Why is it important?

Communication is taking place online in mind-boggling quantities and on a variety of platforms. In an era in which "fake news" and "alternative facts" have become household terms, it is important to examine how trustworthiness can be enhanced on digital platforms. Our case study, the travel site TripAdvisor, shows that the platform's trust-enhancing algorithms necessarily means that it becomes a co-communicator: Enhancing the "ethos" of the communicator is done partly by the individual contributor, but also partly by the platform's format (for instance by counting "likes", the number of reviews written, and making accessible some biographical information of the contributor). This has both positive and negative dimensions, as it is the platform that decides which are the criteria that determine the degree of trustworthiness of messages.


The wider goal of the chapter is to explore how Sperber and Wilson's Relevance Theory can be used/adapted to accommodate online communication.

Dr Charles Forceville
Universiteit van Amsterdam

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This page is a summary of: Relevance theory perspectives on web-mediated communication, September 2022, John Benjamins, DOI: 10.1075/milcc.9.17for.
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