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Can you Trust the Information you Find Online?

By: Chris Nickson - Updated: 20 Jun 2010 | comments*Discuss
Can You Trust The Information You Find Online?

We get so much information online these days. For business, for homework or for university research, it’s our prime source of knowledge. Because it’s there, written down, we assume it must be correct, and we usually accept it as such without question.

Generally what’s there is right – or at least correct from the perspective of the person writing it. We don’t bother to corroborate what we find on the Internet, but how much can we really trust it?

Information Online

It’s a good thing that people can post almost anything online. It means there’s so much information available. Generally, however, we tend to go to just a few sources, those that appear high in a Web search when we type a query into an Internet search engine, such as Wikipedia.

That’s a very useful online resource, but it’s certainly not infallible, as has been shown many times. The editors do check, but ultimately it’s only as good as the person inputting the information, who may or may not be an expert. The very open source that it boasts about and that makes it a community means that you might not be able to trust it.

The same is true of so many sites, especially those run by individuals. What they’re writing might well be the truth as they see it, but it might not be the complete truth, and in some cases could be absolutely wrong.

From time to time, you’ll even find sources that contradict each other. So who do you believe? Can you trust any of it?

Verifying Online Information

It’s incredibly handy to obtain information from the Internet, since you don’t even have to leave your seat to do it. But it’s far from the only source. Before it grew into the behemoth it is today, people used libraries for reference.

Libraries are still there, and you can still use them for information. There certainly won’t be as much as you’ll find online, but the Encyclopedia Britannica is free (to get the full text of an entry online you need to be a subscriber).

There are also various encyclopedia online, one where the entries have been made by experts and verified. When you’re seeking information, it’s always wise to go to a good, verified source to be certain you have things right – and it makes for a good citation beyond Wikipedia.

You should always check more than one source for information. If the second source disagrees then you need to dig further, preferably two more places until you find a consensus (and don’t be afraid to point out differing viewpoints in any report you have to write, as that shows you’ve researched in depth).

Research should never be hurried, although in the case of homework, it often is. But if you don’t have a lot of time, go to online sources where you know you can trust the information and then use others for back up or more background.

Even if it seems blindingly obvious, don’t assume the first information you find at a random site online is correct. Always check.

We’re bombarded by so much information that these days we really can’t trust what we read online, at least not at the first glance. Take your time and check; it’s worth the extra effort.

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