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Having established a long time ago how great the Web is as a learning tool – packed full of information that is now all available right at your fingertips – it’s time to remind ourselves that there is a dark side to this dissemination of facts and figures. Because, as it turns out, not all facts and figures are created equal.
In the same way that traditional forms of media can spin a story to suit editorial tastes, or print an assumption based on flimsy evidence, the Web can be manipulated. This prompted a debate for last week’s We Ask You column that sought to discover how our readers sorted the wheat from the chaff, and whether they chose to search out the truth amongst the maelstrom of lies.
Do You Believe Everything You Read On The Web?
We asked you, Do You Believe Everything You Read On The Web? There were a pleasing number of responses, and thankfully most people didn’t just answer with “Yes” or “No.” Instead, the majority expounded their points eloquently. Once again showing that MakeUseOf is the home of the most intelligent readers on this series of tubes we call the InterWebs.
Further proving that point is the fact that the vast majority answered the primary question with a big fat “No.” And even those who admitted to occasionally believing things they read online too readily they only did so when the source was a legitimate, well known, and trusted one.
Names mentioned in this context include the BBC, NATO, NASA, TechRadar, Which?, Wikipedia (though some dispute this), and the generalized “government websites.” Several people also mentioned WOT as a good tool for determining the trustworthiness of individual websites.
Comment Of The Week
There were some very insightful responses to the question, with Rob Hindle, Lisa Santika Onggrid, and Alan Wade in particular providing valuable input. Comment Of The Week goes to Peter Everett, who won with this comment:
As mentioned in the text, the internet is as fallible as any other medium, but more so in that anyone in the world can post their opinion as fact, and if done so in the right places at the right time, can go global in a very short period of time. This is compounded by the traditional media being able to take inaccurate statements that have gone global and publish them in the news, galvanising them as fact in the process (at least in the minds of their avid readers).
I would hope that most internet users have gone through a similar process as me: When reading a new website, I would try to rate its ‘trustworthiness’ based on information I already know to be true – old articles or articles about subjects which I’m already well versed in. Alternatively, I will cross reference them with websites I DO already trust. Often, as a Britain, these are websites such as the BBC, government websites, or authority websites such as NATO, UN, CERN, Nasa (subject dependent).
Once I have ascertained the ‘trustworthiness’ of a website, I would often bookmark the website in my browser (or metaphorically) as a reputable source and use it freely thereafter.
I do however remain open to that trustworthiness rating being amended as appropriate to make sure that I don’t blindly trust everything written there.
It is worth noting we should always be prepared to have all our ideas and opinions challenged in the face of new evidence, so this should be applied to those websites we already trust or those we don’t trust.
One interesting point to note that was brought to my attention by an Air Power Studies lecturer recently was a question: “Do people that habitually read certain newspapers, read them primarily because they reinforce what they already believe, or because they challenge their held beliefs?” (particularly papers with a political bias). Of course people read papers that uphold their political views, its more comfortable.
Lastly, I do actually hold the opinion of the writers of makeuseof in quite high regard and by now I often take their views as read and don’t bother to check their validity. laziness? probably.
For what its worth, these are my most trusted (and visited) websites:
and the official websites mentioned earlier, and plenty of gaming websites
This comment brings up various interesting points, and concludes with a little brown-nosing towards MakeUseOf – which is always appreciated though obviously not a prerequisite of winning ‘Comment Of The Week‘. The original point, that anyone, anywhere can post anything as if it was fact, lies at the very heart of this debate. Perhaps we all need to use our heads more when disseminating information.
We will be asking a new question tomorrow, so please join us then. We Ask You is a weekly column dedicated to finding out the opinions of MakeUseOf readers. We ask you a question and you tell us what you think. The question is open-ended and is usually open to debate. Some questions will be purely opinion-based, while others will see you sharing tips and advice, or advocating tools and apps for your fellow MakeUseOf readers. This column is nothing without your input, all of which is valued.
Image Credit: Photosteve101