Need a Halloween costume idea? Google it. Searching for that perfect Sunday family dinner? Check it out online. Wondering the time difference between San Francisco and Tokyo? No problem. In a matter of seconds, you’ll find your answer on the web.
We’ve become accustomed to finding solutions to our most pressing questions and concerns almost instantaneously on the internet. At times, it can feel like a bottomless pit of infinite information that we almost forget is created by humans all around the world, all day and every day.
In fact, there’s so much information, that we can start to feel overwhelmed, unsure where to start and which information to rely on. A couple simple tools can help us use information on the internet to our advantage, no matter if we’re looking for professional advice, conducting business, or merely surfing the web for the latest cat memes.
Finding information that is credible and up-to-date is a second major consideration. Depending on subject matter, recently published information may be additional criteria.
Let’s consider how to make the most of both when using the internet of things in our daily lives.
If you’ve ever had some of those debates around the dinner table, about the main actors of the tv show Hunger Games, or the most common languages spoken in the world, or the amount of time it takes to travel between Boston and San Francisco, chances are you’ve called on Google to serve as referee.
Billions of websites each with unique pieces of information are at our fingertips, waiting to be uncovered. In the last decade, we’ve become so accustomed to looking up any wandering doubt or pressing concern online with a couple simple clicks.
The possibilities can seem truly endless.
However, excessive information often leads to the unfortunate side-effect of misinformation, since material found online can be produced by anyone with a thought and computer access. It’s important, when calling on the internet for simple answers or complex solutions after careful research, that we take into account credibility and objectivity.
There’s a simple checklist we can run through in our heads to ensure the content we find online is reliable.
First, locate the author of the page. Is the name clearly displayed? Can you easily link to other examples of this author’s other works? Can you find a bio on the author, and does she or he appear credible to write on the given topic?
Second, determine the intended audience of the website. Who are the targeted demographics? Does the author have a special agenda in addressing this audience? What’s the overall purpose of the article: to inform? to teach? to persuade? or to sell an idea/product?
Third, assess the website’s credibility. Does the author appear biased? Is the language he or she uses to express ideas latent with opinions? Is the website approved by a partnering company or organization?
Fourth, check the site’s accuracy using some cross-checking. Do the website’s claims align with other scholars or experts in the related field? Is the writer’s point of view consistent? Does the author’s writing style display basic functions of grammar and spelling accuracy? Is the information up-to-date/was the article recently published?
Lastly, look for relevant links. Are the links accurately placed, and do they relate to pertinent information? What types of sources are linked? Do these sources also display accurate and reliable information?
Of course, we don’t only come to the internet to find information, but to contribute new information as well. This takes on many forms, from scholarly reports, to blog posts, to product reviews, video clips, and even social media.
In a matter of seconds, we can become self-published authors in this sense. This is how small blogs of 10 followers grown to platforms of millions of subscribers. It’s how you keep far-away family and friends up-to-date with your life. It’s how you, one person alone, can contribute to advancements in the scientific community that will benefit people all around the world.
Although it’s hard to fully imagine the number of people we can reach when we create online content, we must take some necessary precautions.
Protect personal photos and videos with privacy settings accounts and share only with known people, family, and friends. Better yet, any photos you wouldn’t feel comfortable sharing at work with your co-workers or boss are best not to upload on social media. Even with privacy settings, you can never be too sure what other internet users can get their hands on.
Submit professional or scholarly content to websites with a credible reputation that safeguard against plagiarism. Inversely, you can run your own content through website’s with the main function to detect plagiarism, to make sure you haven’t inadvertently copied someone else’s work.
When creating a blog, rely on your own photos, or turn to professional photo websites which clearly state the rights owners of the photos have allowed.
That crazy cat meme, cheap flights, or vegetarian recipes we’ve found online can be hard to keep to just ourselves.
Websites are making it easier than ever for us to share content with other internet users, through social media or email most often. It’s a win-win scenario, where we’re able to easily pass along information to a friend, meanwhile, the website essentially has hired free promoters to share its content.
On the other hand, here is where users can be a catalyst for accurate information or misinformation. We’ve shortened or internet attention span to the point where sometimes we only read a catchy article title, without reading it fully through. When we share articles after reading only a small portion of it (or nothing), we risk spreading false information.
When in doubt, the same standards of credibility and accuracy we look for when researching our own content should be applied to content shared with family and friends.
Based on the information we’ve researched online, or based on feedback from our own produced content (blog comments, links, etc.) we can draw separate conclusions about which information will serve us best.
Each reader will approach online content in a new way, and will ultimately use his or her own judgment to reach a final resolution.