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Article Newspaper/Magazine

Political information search in “noisy” online environments: Insights from an experiment examining older and younger adults’ searches on smartphones and laptops


An important problem voters face is that they frequently encounter unfamiliar candidates and policies during elections. The Internet provides a solution to this problem by allowing voters to access vast amounts of information using communication technologies like laptops and smartphones. However, the online environment is “noisy,” containing information both relevant and irrelevant to any given query. Existing research has not examined whether voters are able to discriminate between relevant and irrelevant political information during online search and how this discrimination ability influences voting decisions. We conducted a preregistered experimental study (N = 128; 64 younger participants and 64 older participants) in which we created our own search engine and webpages about political candidates to examine people’s discrimination ability during search. We found that people’s ability to discriminate between relevant and irrelevant facts during search increased the likelihood that their later vote choices were influenced by relevant (instead of irrelevant) information. In addition, older and younger adults’ discrimination abilities did not differ between searches on smartphones or laptops. Our findings demonstrate a new way to integrate theories of political behavior and communication technology and highlight information search in “noisy” online environments as an important problem faced by voters in democracies.

Ryan C. Moore
Jason C. Coronel
Olivia M. Bullock
Samuel Lerner
Michael P. Sheehan
Journal of Information Technology & Politics
Publication Date
March 30, 2020