A new and wide ranging report from the UK regulatory agency Ofcom about media literacy finds that 32 percent of UK kids aged 12-15 years old believe that the links/listings shown at the top of search results are the most “truthful.” Here’s how the report summarized this finding:
Among children aged 12-15 who use the internet, almost all have experience of using search engine websites (94%).
Those who use search engine sites were shown a list of options and were asked to say which, if any, apply in terms of the way results are shown on search engine sites.
There is no clear consensus among search engine users, but 12-15s are more likely to respond that results are ranked on their usefulness or relevance (37%) or their truthfulness (32%) than they are to respond that websites pay money to be at the top of the list (14%).
The question prompting the responses charted above was “Which if any of these explain the way results are shown when you use search engine websites like Google, Yahoo, MSN or Ask Jeeves?”
From 2008 to 2009 the number of those who think that top search results are based on “relevance” declined in favor of “truthfulness.” It doesn’t appear there was much detailed questioning around sponsored vs. organic results and definitions or explanations of each category. Consequently it’s not clear to me if the kids are referring to paid results in their statements about relevance or truthfulness.