*Nov. 28, 2011 I have just started this project so this is just a brief summary.
How does social change happen when people cannot see each other? In any situation where groups of people come to act or think in similar and coordinated ways, information is being shared and disseminated. The people receiving and exchanging this information must constantly evaluate how trustworthy they believe the information – and the people it is coming from – to be. But how are people able to judge the trustworthiness of information and sources in online settings when they cannot see each one another, and when information is being circulated within a group of strangers?
In my current research project, I ask how people decide whether the information they acquire in disembodied (not face-to-face), non place-based online networks is trustworthy and how they act on that information. I answer these questions with data obtained through extensive ethnographic research on the digital communication practices of Chinese youth and new internet users in China. By examining how new internet users in China interact with information from social media and popular online sites in their everyday lives, I show how changes in technological infrastructure and communication practices yield new paradigms of trust. This trust exists at both a personal level, between individuals or between individuals and groups, and at an impersonal level, between individuals and systems or institutions. I highlight the role of technological infrastructures and especially the growth of databases as intermediaries in online communication practices, and argue that users develop strategies for assessing how much trust to put in their online messages, systems, and relationships.