There is a deluge of information thrust on consumers in print, on television, online, and in social media. Making informed choices about your media selections is more important than ever. With more content to absorb than free time, how do you make sure you are getting the most relevant, authoritative, and truthful information? It’s likely you have encountered a wide range in quality of online information. Not all blogs, articles, and websites are created equal. Just because you found it on the web in black and white, does not make the statement true.
Here are a few simple guidelines to follow. The next time your friend shares information via email or Facebook, stop and think before you pass it along to others. Get curious and ask questions about the subject to uncover the facts. Avoid immediately re-posting or sharing. If you need help, ask a librarian. Be patient—you may not find the answers right away.
Consider the source of the information. Follow up on the “About Us” page of the website or take a look at the mission and vision. Is the author’s name listed? Without an author or organization taking credit, verifying their credentials and areas of expertise is difficult. If an author is provided, what makes them a qualified expert on this subject? Look for links documenting their professional affiliations and other writing credits. Consider a Google search to get background and biographical information. Next, compare their conclusions to those of related websites or services. Do similar sources examine this subject? Lack of coverage can be a clue something is awry.
Read past the headlines. If the subsequent information does not support the story, this may be click bait: a misleading or outrageous headline designed to produce an emotional response to promote traffic. What you may not know is that advertisers can generate revenue with every click. In general, consider carefully before sharing, because you could be spreading misleading information and inadvertently raising revenue for a dubious online business. Check out Tim Wu’s new book “The Attention Merchants: The Epic Scramble to Get Inside Our Heads” for an in-depth exploration of online advertising trends.
Even some authentic news sites have been known to utilize attention-grabbing headlines to draw readers in for the purposes of increasing traffic. Similarly, advertisements can disguise themselves as legitimate news articles by adopting similar formatting and an adjacent position. Look for the small print indicating “advertisement” or “sponsored content”. Also, be wary of unusual formatting such as awkward layouts, misspellings, grammatical issues, and photos that show signs of manipulation. These are all hallmarks of scams, hoaxes, and other fraudulent online schemes.
Overall, avoid assumptions. On the surface, an email or post may appear legitimate, but how can you be sure? It is helpful to know yourself, and examine your biases. Being mindful of your own preconceptions will decrease your chances of being manipulated by half-truths or false information published by less reliable sources.
If you are looking for information on a specific subject, start at the Library’s research databases instead of a web search engine. Library databases have already done half the work of evaluating information for you so that you do not have to. Here are a few you may find useful: World Book Online, Academic OneFile, Science in Context, InfoTrac Newsstand, Global Issues in Context, Opposing Viewpoints in Context, and Student Resources in Context.
World Book Online is an excellent resource for general questions about people, places, and things, with a variety of age-specific interfaces. Also, Academic OneFile offers peer-reviewed articles on a broad spectrum of topics. While similar to Google, this search interface offers information with greater reliability.
To explore questions about science and technology, get accurate answers with Science in Context. Are you interested in current events? Stay abreast by searching the newspaper archives in InfoTrac Newsstand. Would you like to explore the historical and contemporary conditions that impact our world today? Try out Global Issues in Context. Similarly, you can delve into the pros and cons of any social or political issue with Opposing Viewpoints in Context.
Additionally, teens working on a school project, in need of good resources, might appreciate Student Resources in Context. We know their teachers will. Although accessed online, information found in a library database has been evaluated for reliability and accuracy as compared to many websites. You can access our databases and research tools at www.sedonalibrary.org by going to “Resources” and then “Tools and Databases.”
Critical thinking skills are the most useful asset in distinguishing truthful, accurate, and unbiased information sources from false or misleading articles and scams frequently found online. The Library offers many tools to help you separate fact from fiction. In our shifting and expanding information landscape, the need to carefully vet our sources is vital. While the friendly librarians at Sedona Library are trained to navigate and evaluate information, the responsibility ultimately falls to all of us to practice good information hygiene.
Sedona Public Library
Column for June 9, 2017
Written by Andrea Lhotka, Public Services Librarian
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