Magazine article Techniques

On the Web, Seeing Isn't Always Believing

Magazine article Techniques

On the Web, Seeing Isn't Always Believing

Article excerpt

Did you know that TWA Flight 800, the commercial airliner that tragically crashed off Long Island in 1996, was accidentally shot down by a U.S. Navy missile?

OK, this was just a rumor that was circulating on the Internet. But some people believed it, including such respected authorities as Pierre Salinger, former ABC News correspondent and one-time press secretary to John F. Kennedy. Salinger embarrassed himself by announcing to the world that he had "indisputable" proof, only to have his proof quickly debunked.

The fact is, the Internet is chock-full of rumors, gossip, hoaxes, exaggerations, falsehoods, ruses and scams. Though the Net can reveal useful, factual information that you'd be hard-pressed to find elsewhere, it can also appear to be a gigantic electronic tabloid.

Can you ever trust the Internet? Sure you can. You just need to apply critical thinking in evaluating the information and advice you come across. Here's a six-step approach to doing this.

1. Just as you shouldn't judge a book by its cover, don't judge a Web site by its appearance. Sure, if a Web site looks professional rather than slopped together, chances are greater that the information within it will be accurate and reliable.

But looks can and do deceive, frequently. A flashy site can merely be a marketing front for quack health remedies or an illegal pyramid scheme.

2. Try to find out who's behind the infor mation. If you're looking at a Web site, check if the author or creator is identified. See if there are links to a page listing professional credentials or affiliations Be very skeptical if no authorship information is provided.

If you're looking at a message in a Usenet newsgroup or Internet mailing list, see if the author has included a signature-a short, often biographical, description that's automatically appended to the end of messages. Many people include their credentials in their signature or point to their home page where they provide biographical information.

3. Try to determine the reason the information was posted. Among those who create Web sites are publishing companies, professional and trade organizations, government agencies, nonprofit organizations, for-profit companies, educational institutions, individual researchers, political and advocacy groups and hobbyists. …

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