By Tony Lam
In the age of online information, anyone can publish anything on the web. The Internet, without a doubt, is a black hole of infinite resources – some reliable, most untrustworthy. As consumers of online information, we need to develop a more critical eye in order to evaluate the credibility of these resources and their sources.
Here are a few tips for you to keep in mind when evaluating the reliability or trustworthiness of online resources:
- WHO IS THE AUTHOR? Most websites have the “ABOUT” section, in which the author provides a brief introduction of himself/herself. Ask these questions as you peruse through the biographical background: What is this person’s education background? What types of credentials does he or she have? Any professional publications (books, articles, etc.) by this author? If there are multiple authors, what type of organization do they belong to?
- LEARN MORE ABOUT THE SUFFIX OF THE URL. Sometimes the information or resources are linked to an organization (education, government, non-profit, etc.). The suffix ending of the URL (Uniform Resource Locator) address can be very helpful.
Here are some familiar URL suffixes that you might have probably seen before:
.EDU = EDUcation. This URL suffix is almost always linked to universities and colleges. Sources from these sites are usually academic and sometimes clinical or scientific. Nonetheless, you should beware that there are political and religious biases.
.GOV = GOVernment. These are government sites. They can be federal (www.irs.gov) or state (www.ca.gov). For the most part, they are reliable and objective. Most municipal websites use .net (www.anaheim.net) instead.
.ORG = ORGanization. These websites are mostly non-profit organizations. There are personal website with the .org suffix, as there are commercial sites with the same ending. Be extra careful with political and religious organizations, as they are very biased.
.NET = NETwork. Along with .com, this is another popular suffix ending assigned by Internet providers. Approach these sites with cautions.
.COM = COMmerce. As the name dictates, this ending is usually linked to commercial or business organizations. They sell things, so beware of the information or resources.
- HOW ACCURATE IS THE INFORMATION?
Is the information accurate? Is it objective? Editorial? Does the information have a certain slant or bias? Are there commercial advertisements on the site? These are things that you should looking for when evaluating the resources. You can also info shop to compare sources.
- HOW CURRENT IS THE WEBSITE? So you scroll down to the bottom of the page and see that it was last updated in 1999. Unless you are digging for some historical stats, DO NOT EVEN BOTHER! RUN! Do another search. Broken or defunct links are also good indications of an unreliable site or source.
I know it’s daunting out there in the black hole of online information. In theory, anyone can author anything or pretend to be an expert on almost everything. Fear not! The art of gleaning reliable online resources requires skills that you can definitely develop through practices. Follow the prescribed criteria above and you’ll do fine.
When all else fails, who you gonna call?! Librarians!