According to the results of a study released on Wednesday by the UCLA Center for Communication Policy, many of the Internet users surveyed said the Internet is a more important source of information than either radio or television.
The UCLA Internet Report found that 67.3 per cent of the study's Internet users think that the Web is an "important" or "extremely important" source of information, while 53.1 per cent of those surveyed ranked television and 46.8 per cent ranked radio at the same levels.
"The fact that the vast majority of Americans who use the Internet consider it an important information source -- even though it has been commonly available for only a few years -- vividly demonstrates how this technology is transforming the political process and the knowledge of voters," said Jeffrey Cole, director of the UCLA Center for Communication Policy and head of the World Internet Project, which includes the UCLA Internet Report.
Most Internet users -- about 73.1 per cent -- said they think books are more important sources of information than the Internet is. Internet users ranked newspapers second, with 69.3 per cent reporting that they're important information sources; the Internet was ranked the third most important source of information.
Non-Internet users ranked the Internet as the least important source of information, with only 25 per cent saying it's an "important" source of information.
Some Internet users (35.7 per cent) and almost half of non-Internet users (45.7 per cent) said that only "about half" of the information on the Internet is reliable.
"About half -- 52 per cent -- said most of the information is reliable and accurate.
Basically, people are skeptical about what they can believe in what they're reading [on the Internet]," said Michael Sumuna, research director of the Center for Communication Policy.
He said that people seem to have a realistic approach toward what they find on the Internet. The wide publicity of Internet publications like the Drudge Report, which is reputed to be reliable only part of the time, has led people to carefully evaluate the information they get from the Internet, he said.
Both Internet users and nonusers agreed that there are risks in going online -- 63.6 per cent of Internet users and 76.1 per cent of nonusers either agreed or strongly agreed with the statement, "People who go online put their privacy at risk." The results released yesterday are part of a longitudinal study the center is conducting with 2,000 individuals. In October, the rest of the study will be released. That information will be the first full set of results reported from the year-to-year study, which is cross-culturally studying how the Internet affects and changes people's lives.