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Internet Searching & Evaluating Information

Why search the web? How do you search it? And how do you determine what you've found is reliable? Explore this guide to learn more.

FA(t)Qs Frequently Ask these Questions about Internet Information

  • Can I find an author? 
  • What do I know about my author? 
  • What is the purpose of this website or article?
  • Are there lots of advertisements and/or spots for you to donate money?
  • Is there poor spelling and grammar?
  • Are there dead or broken links?
  • What is the purpose of the information? To persuade? To inform? A call to action?
  • When was this page created? When was it last updated? 
  • Are traceable sources given for pieces of evidence? 
  • Is the information you found consistent with the majority of information on the same topic? 

Can I find an author?

If you are unable to find an author's name, then you should reconsider the source. No author given should raise a red flag. Why wouldn't the author want credit for his work? What is he hiding? If it is a mere oversight, then it calls into question the level of attention-to-detail given to the rest of the information. 

Remember, an author can be a personal author (i.e. Bill Smith) or a corporate author (St. John's Hospital). 

When looking at web resources, in lieu of an author you may see the terms created by and hosted by. Author, creator, and host are essentially interchangeable. 

What do I know about my author?

If an author is provided, then that is good, but that is not enough information to verify the author's credibility.

What do you know about your author? You want to find out details about Bill Smith or St. Johns Hospital, for example, that help establish credibility. 

At the beginning of an article or at the end of an article you have likely seen a quick overview of the author. The things included often range from where the person is (or was) employed, where the individual graduated from, what they are involved in, other works they have authored. The inclusion of this information helps establish (or not) the credibility of that particular author writing on that particular subject. What about this person makes them qualified to write on the topic? 

Rather than this overview information being given, you may see the author's name displayed as a hyperlink. Clicking on the author's name may then direct you to more information on the author. 

Other times no additional author information is given. When this occurs, you can try to perform a classic Google search on the personal or corporate author. As you can imagine, with a more generic name (i.e. Bill Smith) this becomes much more difficult and labor-intensive to do. 

If you cannot drill down far enough and feel confident you've found the correct person, then: when in doubt, go without. 

What is the purpose of this website or article?

After reading something you have found on the Internet, do a simple check-in with yourself to ask: what was the point or purpose of what I just read? You may want to extend this question to both the specific piece you just read, but also to the website that is including this information. 

After some quick research, it's conceivable that an article titled, "What to Eat After a Heart Attack," would focus on dietary and nutritional guidelines for someone who has undergone a heart attack. Additionally, the inclusion of an article like this on the American Heart Association's website makes sense after learning about the purpose of the American Heart Association.

Good places to look for information on a website's purpose are in the About Us, Contact Us, and History sections of a website. 

Again, if you cannot determine what the mission, aim, or purpose of an article or website is, then that should raise some red flags as to the quality of the resource you found.  

Are there lots of advertisements and/or spots for you to donate money?

A tendency between the number of advertisements and/or spots for you to donate money on a site often, but not always correlates to a decrease in a website's credibility. With an increase in advertisement placement and monetary donation requests on a page, you should make the connection that likely their primary goal is to make money, not necessarily educate and inform you. 

Doing a quick scan of the perimeter of a webpage is an easy way to see if the website you are using does this. 

Is there poor spelling and grammar?

Poor spelling and grammar mistakes often highlight a lack of attention-to-detail. If there is no attention-to-detail given towards basics such as spelling and grammar, then it makes one question the integrity of work the website produces. 

Yes, minor mistakes can happen, but gross misuse of grammar and spelling may signal greater problems. 

What is the purpose of the information? To persuade? To inform? A call to action?

An incredibly important step to critically evaluating information found on a website is to step back and ask yourself:

  • why was this information created?
  • What is the purpose of this information?

Asking questions like these helps pinpoint whether there is bias--prejudice in favor or against something--within the content. Is the information trying to sway or persuade you into a certain way of thinking? Is the information trying to rally you to a call to action? Or is the information neutral--not helping or supporting either side of an issue--in its delivery.

Example

  1. Persuasive: Bill Gates Will Use Microchip Implants to Fight Coronavirus https://biohackinfo.com/news-bill-gates-id2020-vaccine-implant-covid-19-digital-certificates/   (Please Note: This content is persuasive, but the content is also false)  
  2. Call to Action: Trust the Facts: Get the Vax https://www.mass.gov/info-details/trust-the-facts-get-the-vax (Please Note: This content is persuasive, but also a call to action)
  3. Neutral: Covid-19 Vaccine Guidance from Mayo Clinic https://www.mayoclinic.org/coronavirus-covid-19/vaccine (Please Note: This content is unbiased because it is presenting facts only in an informational manner)

biased source does not necessarily equal a bad source, but it is imperative that the reader understand the bias in the piece of information. 

When was this page created? When was it last updated?

Identifying when the piece of information was written and/or last updated is invaluable information that you should not ignore. The date something was written is incredibly important, especially in the technology, science, and medical fields because things can become out-of-date quickly due to new discoveries and technological changes. You want to ensure you are looking at relevant, up-to-date information because out-of-date information can be equally as dangerous as outright false information. 

When looking online the date of something may appear as: 

  • month / date / year (June, 10, 2022)
  • month / year (June 2022)
  • year (2022)

Finding the date can be tricky, but it is often near the title of an article or at the bottom of an article. The same applies to an update. 

If no date is given, then a big red flag should go up. Just as an article with no author given, no inclusion of a date makes me question 1) the level of attention-to-detail given to the rest of the piece and, 2) whether the creator trying to hide something.

There are plenty of quality sources so: when in doubt, go without...and find a better information source. 

 

Are traceable sources given for pieces of evidence?

When you read something and it provides statistical information, quotations, discusses someone else's research, or names specific people or entities, then the creator of the content should make it easier for the reader to circle back to that primary research information. 

Online, this may present itself a number of different ways. The particular piece of evidence: 

  • could be hyperlinked and clicking on the hyperlink sends you to that original piece of data
  • could contain a footnote or in-text citation with more information given in the Works Cited / Bibliography / References / Works Consulted section (found at the end of the article) 
  • should be easily verifiable through independent Google searching

Usually a good rule of thumb is: the more legitimate the site, the easier the site will make it for you to establish credibility / fact-check information.

Remember: ANYONE can say ANYTHING on the Internet. I could claim to be a doctor and spout of random statistics, but that doesn't mean that information is grounded in reality. On the contrary, it could be completely made up. 

Is the information you found consistent with the majority of information on the same topic?

Information that is credible is easily duplicated elsewhere. 

What does this mean? This means credible information can be found in multiple search results online. You should be able to click on a variety of links on the same topic and get similar information.

Can you find sites online that deny the Holocaust existed? Absolutely! However, if you search for information on the Holocaust, then the vast majority of resources are going to discuss the tragedy of the Holocaust, its origins, implications, legacy, etc.