Diffusion examines how new ideas are spread among groups of people. In the case of the DOD plan to immunize service members against anthrax, exploration of diffusion should center on the conditions which increase or decrease the likelihood that the idea of the immunizations will be adopted by the members of the military culture. In particular, since compliance with orders is a given in this culture, the attitude of the service members towards the vaccination is scrutinized.
DOD used several different media early in the program to attempt to influence the decision-making process of the members of the military culture. In the "awareness stage" of the adoption process, change agents in the form of military leaders from the Secretary of Defense to local commanders were shown receiving the shots in photos that accompanied news releases hailing the program. Recent diffusion research shows the rate at which information becomes available is crucial to the speed of adoption (Fischer, Arnold & Gibbs, 1996). This sort of mass media communication by these change agents was effective among the early adopters and early majority. The purpose was to make individuals aware of the new program and provide introductory information about it.
It is in the "interest stage" of the adoption process that the DOD plan shows its weakness. In this stage, individual members of a social system, in this case the military, develop an interest in the innovation and seek additional information about it. The DOD plan outlined in the background section of this study describes the information that was made available to the internal audience at the initial announcement and at subsequent milestones. The information presented by DOD concerning the anthrax immunization program on the World Wide Web (WWW) is conspicuous in its absence. Adopters of the innovation seeking more information on the WWW found little or no material promoting the inoculations. These sources were not made available until after other sources appeared condemning the program. Thus, any adopter seeking further information about anthrax and anthrax vaccines were exposed to sources counterproductive to the DOD effort. By allowing the perceived risk to heighten through failing to anticipate the negative material on the Internet, DoD decreased the likelihood of adoption (Wright, Palmar & Kavanaugh, 1995).
One of the tenets of the DOD plan was an education campaign designed to inform anthrax shot recipients of the nature of the threat leading to the inoculations, and of the vaccine itself. This was done primarily though briefings and supplemented through mass media. The intent of the change agents was to educate the military society about what they were getting, why they were getting it, and any potential risks involved. However, DOD officials failed to anticipate that a small population of adopters would seek to confirm this information from sources on the Internet. The mere existence of an innovation does not guarantee acceptance or diffusion (Grubler, 1996). When these late adopters began to search for information on the WWW, they found sources that refuted the DOD perspectives about necessity and risk (Gulf War Vets, 1998). At the point when some individuals were forming either favorable or unfavorable attitudes towards the inoculation program, Internet sources they believed credible were swaying opinions against the program. Recent studies into diffusion show that some adopters believe it is wiser to wait for more information before adopting. This attitude put DoD at a distinct disadvantage (Dong & Saha, 1998).
At this point, the adopter enters the persuasion function of the innovation-decision process. He or she becomes more psychologically involved with the innovation and will actively begin to search for information about the idea. It is during this stage of the adoption process that a person develops a general attitude or perception of the innovation. While DOD's failure to plan for this in relation to the Internet does not necessarily alter the behavior of the military member, it does allow for an unfavorable attitude towards the innovation of the anthrax inoculation.
According to uses and gratification, there are two kinds of belief, belief in a thing and belief about a thing. For example, a person may believe in the Internet as the only source of true and accurate information. Another person may believe the Internet contains many sources for information on any number of subjects (Littlejohn, 1996).
According to this theory, attitude change can occur from three sources. First, information can alter the believability, or weight, of particular beliefs. For example, the person who believes the Internet is the only true and accurate source of information will subconsciously focus only on items of personal interest and disregard the others, much like a television viewer who selectively watches for particular programs or information of interest to that person. Second, information can change the valence of a belief. For example, the person searching the Internet may discover information that contradicts his or her true belief in a subject area. Finally, information can add new beliefs to the attitude structure. For instance, Internet surfers might receive new information from the Internet to help them meet a need or attain a goal (Littlejohn, 1996).
As cited in Littlejohn (1996), Palmgreen and colleagues theorize that what a person believes a medium can provide affects evaluation of the message from that medium. For example, if a person believes information on the Internet is true and accurate, that person will seek gratification of Internet needs by using the received information and influencing others. Conversely, if a person believes information received from the Internet is suspect, they will most likely not use the information. Particular combinations of beliefs and evaluation of those beliefs about Internet information could either be positive (would use the information) or negative (would not use the information).
People who rely on Internet information will have a positive orientation toward sites providing that information, whereas the person who avoids these information sites because of a negative set of beliefs and evaluations will be highly suspect of this source of information. By studying Palmgreenís research and applying it to people who use the Internet in their information gathering process, we assume that uses and gratifications are complex and non-linear and are part of a multiple causal chain (Littlejohn,1996).
A personís beliefs about what the Internet medium provides are affected by 1) culture and social institutions, 2) availability of the medium, and 3) the personís tendencies toward introversion, extroversion, or particular belief about a subject. A personís values are affected by: 1) cultural and social factors, 2) needs, and 3) psychological traits. A personís beliefs and values determine what gratification of Internet information is received and this determines that personís media-consumption behavior. Based on what information is digested and how this person disseminates the information to others, these will in turn feed back to oneís beliefís about the subject on which the information has been sought.
The uses and gratification approach borrows
from the dependency theory in that
At the center of the theory is the notion that audiences depend on media information to meet needs and attain goals. The Internet serves many functions; from monitoring government activities to providing an avenue for entertainment. For individuals, some of these functions are more important than others and an individualís dependence on information from the medium increases as that medium supplies information that is more central to that individualís beliefs.
Dependency theory develops when certain media contents are used to gratify specific needs or when certain media forms are consumed habitually as ritual, to fill time, or as an escape or distraction. Needs are fulfilled by using media in different ways and different contexts.
An individualís needs are not always entirely
personal but can and are shaped by
To apply this belief to our research problem,
a military member searching for