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The impact of anonymous, two-way, computer-mediated communication on perceived whistleblower credibility

Jacob A. Young (Department of Entrepreneurship, Technology and Law, Foster College of Business, Bradley University, Peoria, Illinois, USA)
James F. Courtney (Department of Computer Information Systems, Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, Louisiana, USA)
Rebecca J. Bennett (Department of Management, University of Central Florida College of Business Administration, Orlando, Florida, USA)
Timothy Selwyn Ellis (Department of Computer Information Systems, Louisiana Tech University, Ruston, Louisiana, USA)
Clay Posey (Cybersecurity and Privacy Cluster and Department of Management, University of Central Florida College of Business Administration, Orlando, Florida, USA)

Information Technology & People

ISSN: 0959-3845

Article publication date: 30 September 2020

Issue publication date: 24 May 2021

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328

Abstract

Purpose

The purpose of this study was to investigate the impact of two-way, computer-mediated communication on investigator perceptions of whistleblower credibility.

Design/methodology/approach

Investigators were recruited to participate in an online experiment that tasked subjects with evaluating simulated two-way, computer-mediated communication between an investigator and whistleblower. Several rival explanations were also examined to account for potential confounds.

Findings

While anonymous whistleblowers were perceived to be less credible than identified whistleblowers when reporting via one-way communication, perceived whistleblower credibility was not statistically different when using two-way communication. Further, investigators allocated statistically similar amounts to investigate anonymous and identified reports.

Research limitations/implications

Based upon the results of this study, several new research directions can be explored with respect to maintaining anonymity, assessing credibility and designing reporting systems.

Practical implications

The results support the use of anonymous, two-way communication in whistleblowing reporting systems. Anonymous whistleblowers would benefit from the ability to maintain an active dialogue with investigators without jeopardizing their safety or the investigation.

Social implications

This study provides empirical support for strengthening whistleblowing reporting channels through the adoption of anonymous, two-way, computer-mediated communication. Doing so can better preserve the anonymity of those willing to report wrongdoing and better protect them from potential retaliation.

Originality/value

This study is among the first to empirically test the longstanding theory that anonymous reports are perceived by investigators as less credible than those from identified individuals. This study is also among the first to consider and incorporate anonymous, two-way communication in whistleblowing reporting.

Keywords

Acknowledgements

This study was supported by Bradley University's Center for Cybersecurity and the National Whistleblower Center in Washington, D.C.

Citation

Young, J.A., Courtney, J.F., Bennett, R.J., Ellis, T.S. and Posey, C. (2021), "The impact of anonymous, two-way, computer-mediated communication on perceived whistleblower credibility", Information Technology & People, Vol. 34 No. 3, pp. 1119-1151. https://doi.org/10.1108/ITP-03-2019-0138

Publisher

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Emerald Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2020, Emerald Publishing Limited