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Survey: Public considers Internet more important than ever, but less trustworthy

NEW YORK (AP) _ Americans who use the Internet consider it at least as important as newspapers and books, and more important than television, radio and magazines, according to a new survey. But they've also become more skeptical of what they find online.

The third annual nationwide survey of 2,000 households found Internet users are spending more time online and that they watch less television than non-users.

Overall, Internet users are averaging 11 hours per week online, up by more than an hour from a year earlier.

About 61 percent find the Net ``very'' or ``extremely'' important as an information source. That compares with 60 percent for books and 58 percent for newspapers, within the survey's margin for error of 3 percentage points.

By comparison, just half the Internet users find television important, 40 percent think that of radio and 29 percent of magazines.

``When you need real information you always go to the library,'' said Yale University junior Ralph Byrd, 20. ``But (for) easier stuff, and you're too lazy to go to the library, you can find it from Google,'' the Internet's leading search engine.

Only 53 percent of users believe most or all of what they read online, down from 58 percent a year earlier, according to the survey being released Friday by the Center for Communication Policy at the University of California, Los Angeles. Nearly a quarter of those concerned about using credit cards online say nothing can ease their fears.

Last week, the Federal Trade Commission said complaints about identity theft doubled last year, with victims reporting hijacked credit cards, drained bank accounts and tarnished reputations.

``I don't think anyone wants to see this medium become the equivalent of advertising, where people take everything they see with a grain of salt,'' said Beau Brendler, director of the nonprofit Consumer WebWatch online credibility project. ``It should be a potent signal to Web sites that they should do a better job ensuring that information is credible and Web sites are safe and secure.''

Alisha Richman, 20, of Houston said she only trusts online health information that comes from doctors or hospitals and reports in science journals. Much of what's out there, she said, is often ``kind of iffy.''

The increased skepticism is healthy and suggests people ``getting burned'' are learning they haven't been trained to assess the credibility of online sources, said Jeff Cole, director of the UCLA center that conducted the study from April to June.

Among its other findings:

_ Among the most experienced users _ online at least six years _ 73 percent found the Internet important, exceeding the 67 percent for books and 57 percent for newspapers.

_ Newcomers with less than a year of experience consider books, newspapers and television more important than the Internet.

_ Nearly 30 percent of Americans do not use the Net, most commonly because they don't have a computer or one good enough. But nearly half the nonusers say they are likely to go online within a year.

_ Internet users averaged five hours less TV each week than nonusers. The Internet users watched 11 hours per week of TV, or one hour less than in 2001.

_ Some 37 percent of parents say they have punished their kids by denying them access to the Internet. Forty-six percent used television as a similar punishment tool.
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