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Ensuring Internet Information is Genuine

By: Robin Mizell - Updated: 7 Aug 2013 | comments*Discuss
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Some people find it relatively easy to distinguish authoritative reliable information from unqualified opinions published on the Internet. Others avoid cyber-research altogether because they fear being duped or have grown weary of sifting and analysing what they find. A critical approach is necessary when gathering information in any medium. There are a few methods you can employ specifically to evaluate content you find on the Web.

Who Is the Originator?

Is the material published on a website maintained by an authority on the topic? Is the originator a company, government agency, academic or professional journal, or subject matter expert you can trust to provide dependable, accurate information? Is the site designed to sell something? Are you looking at a sales pitch? Was the article subjected to peer review? Imagine relaying the information to another person. What would you claim as the source of your facts? Would you sound gullible if you cited an advertisement, an obscure blogger, or a shock jock as a legitimate authority on the matter at hand?

Websites usually provide relevant details on “Contact” or “About Us” pages. If you’re still uncertain about a site’s ownership, you can check to see who registered the domain name. By entering any website’s domain name in a Who Is search, such as whois.mtgsy.net, you can discover who registered the domain name and sometimes the person’s home or business address. The individual who completes a domain name registration may or may not be the owner of the website or company represented by the site, because domain names are occasionally registered by web hosting firms. Finding Out About Current or Future Employers describes in more detail how to investigate businesses.

Who Wrote the Content?

How do you know the person who wrote or compiled the information possesses the necessary credentials? A search engine query for background on the author can be revealing.

You need not discount cyber-information solely because no writer is credited. However, it’s best to corroborate any unattributed information with material found elsewhere on the Internet or at the library.

Many sites on the Web consist of aggregated content. These resources should but don’t always link back to the site where the information was initially published. If there’s no link or citation and the material appears to be reprinted, you could be looking at plagiarized or scraped content. Check by copying a distinctive portion of the text and pasting it into a search engine. By conducting a query for replicated or viral content, you may be able to find the source. The original publication is the one you should evaluate.

Primary sources and original research are always important, regardless of the format in which you encounter a derivative report or summary. Research results in particular are reinterpreted, discussed, and disputed in multiple media, often for many years after a study is completed. It’s prudent to read the original documentation, if you can find it. In your analysis of information found online, pay attention to footnotes or endnotes or look for the in-text references to the actual studies or publications that inspired the article. Don’t assume you’ll agree with every author’s interpretation or opinion.

When was the Information Published?

The copyright date on a website might simply indicate when it was designed. It doesn’t necessarily denote the age of information found on the site. Articles published on the Web sometimes have both a byline and a dateline that appear at the beginning or the end. If no date is given, a clue to the age of the material could lie within the text. Does the piece cite the dates of any evidence supporting the author’s arguments? Does it refer to specific events you can put in a historical context? Consider the most recent date mentioned. If there should be at least an allusion to more current information, assume the article is old and continue searching for more up-to-date resources.

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