FOR THE WEEK OF AUG. 02, 2010
What online 'facts' can you trust? Don't let Google be your guide to credibility
While journalists use the Internet for background and fact checks, they mainly get information directly from primary sources rather than second-hand research. Show a primary source in an article.
Would you cite a news article in a term paper or other research report? List factors that make daily papers a trusted information source.
Find an example of content that presents viewpoints and opinion, not "straight news." Either can be used in school projects, if labeled properly.
Here's a good thing about the Internet that also can be a bad thing: Online information makes research for school easy . . . and risky. (By the way, that's called a paradox -- a statement that seems to contradicts itself. It's pronounced pa-RAH-docks.) Two new campus studies cite the hazards of web research for homework, business use, medical tips or other purposes. The takeaway: Check carefully to assure sources are credible and reliable.
Although a prominent spot in search engine results doesn't automatically signal believability, Northwestern University researchers found that a majority of college freshmen click on the first search result no matter where it's from. More than 25 of the 102 students surveyed said they always choose the top result. "In some cases, the respondent regarded the search engine as the relevant entity for which to evaluate trustworthiness, rather than the website that contained the information," says the Illinois university's study, published in the International Journal of Communication.
In a University of Southern California study issued two weeks ago, large percentages of Internet users say they distrust online information. Sixty-one percent believe half or less of online information is reliable -- the lowest level since the Digital Future Project began nine years ago at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the Los Angeles university. Fourteen percent of respondents say only a small portion or none of the information online is reliable -- a percentage that has grown for the past three years.
Study leader says: "Just because younger people grew up with the Web doesn't mean they're universally savvy with it." -- Eszter Hargittai, Northwestern U. associate professor of communication studies
Wikipedia popularity: "Convenience drives Wikipedia use in a world where credibility is less of a given -- or an expectation from students -- with each passing day." -- University of Washington study
Researcher says: "This [annual] survey is identifying growing concern about reliability of the technology and user trust in it." -- Jeffrey Cole, Center for the Digital Future, University of Southern California
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