February 11, 2003

Internet Peaks as America's Most Important Source of Information, Reports Year Three of UCLA Internet Project

While the Internet's importance grows, its credibility declines for the first time; Online use at home peaks, but questions persist about online privacy and credit card security

(Note: The full text of Year Three of the UCLA Internet Report can be downloaded at http://ccp.ucla.edu)

LOS ANGELES — The more than 70 percent of Americans who use the Internet now consider online technology to be their most important source of information, ranking the Internet higher as an information source than all other media including television and newspapers, according to findings in Year Three of the UCLA Internet Report.

"Incredible as it may seem, for the vast majority of America that uses online technology, the Internet has surpassed all other major information sources in importance after only about eight years as a generally-available communications tool,” said Jeffrey Cole, director of the UCLA Center for Communication Policy, a unit in The Anderson School at UCLA and affiliated with the university’s College of Letters and Science.

When Internet users were asked to rank the importance of major media, 61.1 percent said the Internet was very important or extremely important, surpassing books (60.3 percent), newspapers (57.8 percent), television (50.2 percent), radio (40 percent), and magazines (28.7 percent).

Even the newest users of online technology believe the Internet is a vital information source. Among Internet users with less than one year online, more than half (52 percent) say the Internet is very important or extremely important as an information source.

“Clearly, users consider the Internet to be their key source for the broad range of information needs,” said Cole. “We are especially interested to see how the role of the Internet as an information source continues to evolve as online access increasingly shifts to broadband instead of modem access, and the Internet becomes an instantly-available service in America’s households.”

By comparison, television remains the most important source of entertainment, with the Internet ranked fourth; 56.2 percent of Internet users ranked television as very important or extremely important, followed by books (50 percent), radio (48.9 percent), magazines (26.5 percent), the Internet (25 percent), and newspapers (22.8 percent).

Internet credibility: problems grow

Yet a sobering perception persists about the Internet's value as an information source: the credibility of information found on the Internet has declined for the first time in the three-year history of the report.

In 2002, 52.8 percent of users said that most or all of the information online is reliable and accurate — a decline from 58 percent in 2001 and 55 percent in 2000.

Non-users reported even lower levels of belief in credibility of online information; slightly more than one-third of non-users (33.6 percent) in 2002 continued to say that most or all of the information on the Internet is reliable and accurate — down from 36.7 percent in 2001 and about the same as the 33.3 percent in 2000.

"A troubling split in perceptions about the Internet is becoming increasingly clear," said Cole. "The Internet is viewed as a vitally important source of information by new users and experienced users alike, yet disturbingly large numbers of users do not trust what they find online."

"If the Internet's importance for information is growing, but it continues to be perceived as a source of unreliable information, then a 'credibility clash' is looming," Cole said. "How long will the Internet be valued as an important source of information, if the material users find online continues to be considered unreliable and inaccurate?"

Television viewing continues to decline

Year Three of the UCLA Internet Report found that television viewing continues to decline among online users.

"The trend across the three years of the UCLA Internet Project shows that users are 'borrowing' their time to go online from hours previously spent watching television," said Cole. "While survey respondents typically underreport their television viewing, the trend in viewing time is very definitely on the decline, while Internet use is rising.”

Regarding television:

  • Overall, Internet users watched less television in 2002 than in 2001; 11.2 hours per week in 2002, compared to 12.3 hours in 2001.

  • In 2002, Internet users watched about 5.4 hours of television less per week than non-users — this compared to 4.5 hours in 2001.

  • Almost one-third of children now watch less television than before they started using the Internet at home — up from 23 percent in 2001.

  • The decline in television viewing becomes even more pronounced as Internet experiences increases; more than twice as many of the very experienced users than new users say that they spend less time watching television since using the Internet.

Concerns about online privacy: still high, but down slightly

Even while the importance of the Internet grows by some measures, concerns about online privacy and the security still remain sky-high.

Year Three of the UCLA Internet Project found that the vast majority of Americans continue to express some level of concern about the privacy of their personal information when or if they buy on the Internet.

Yet overall, concerns have declined slightly. Overall, 88.8 percent of all respondents — users and non-users alike — expressed some concern about the privacy of their personal information when or if they buy on the Internet — down from 94.6 percent in 2001. Those who are not concerned at all increased to 11.2 percent, more than double the number in 2001 (5.5 percent).

Concerns about credit card information: a continuing major problem

While worries about personal privacy online declined slightly in 2002, concerns about credit card security on the Internet remain as high as ever — and for many users, nothing will reduce their concerns.

Overall, 92.4 percent of all respondents age 18 or over in 2002 expressed some concern about the security of their credit card information when or if they buy online — a statistically insignificant change from 94.4 percent in 2001.

For nearly one-quarter of the respondents (23.1 percent) who have concerns about using their credit cards online, nothing will reduce their concerns about using a credit card online.

"The twin problems of online privacy and credit card security plague many aspects of Internet use," said Cole. "Those concerns decline somewhat as Internet use increases, but they nevertheless remain, and cannot be overemphasized as an important factor in online purchasing and information exchange."

Internet use at home: a dramatic increase

While overall Internet access remained generally stable from 2001 to 2002, use of the Internet at home increased dramatically.

Of the 71.1 percent of Americans who use the Internet, almost 60 percent of users (59.4 percent) have Internet access at home, a substantial increase in only two years from the 46.9 percent of users who reported home Internet access in 2000, the first year of the UCLA Internet Project.

Hours online increase

The number of hours users spend online continued to increase in 2002 — rising to an average of 11.1 hours per week in 2002, up from 9.8 hours in 2001 and 9.3 hours in 2000.

The Top Five Most Popular Internet Activities

The top five online activities in 2002 were e-mail and instant messaging, Web surfing or browsing, reading news, shopping and buying online, and accessing entertainment information.

About The UCLA Internet Project

Year Three of the UCLA Internet Report, titled "Surveying the Digital Future," provides a broad year-to-year view of the impact of the Internet by examining the behavior and views of a national sample of 2,000 Internet users and non-users, as well as comparisons between new users (less than one year of experience) and very experienced users (six or more years of experience).

The project compares findings from all three years of the study, looking at five major areas: who is online and who is not, media use and trust, consumer behavior, communication patterns, and social and psychological effects.

The UCLA Center for Communication Policy created and organizes the World Internet Project, which includes the UCLA Internet Report and similar studies in Europe, the Middle East, South America, and Asia.

The UCLA Internet Project is supported by public foundations and private companies, including the National Science Foundation, Hewlett-Packard, Accenture, America Online (AOL) Time Warner, Microsoft, Sony, Verizon, SBC, DirecTV, and the National Cable Television Association.

The UCLA Center for Communication Policy is based in The Anderson School at UCLA and maintains an affiliation with the university's College of Letters and Science.

Contact Information

Media Relations, (310) 206-7707, media.relations@anderson.ucla.edu

Media Relations