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Don’t Believe Everything You Click

June 20th, 2012 at Wed, 20th, 2012 at 12:20 pm by Meredith

Most people have been warned not to believe everything they read, but how often do you really stop to question the validity of the latest viral story, or any other information you find online?

I recently read an article from the Atlantic Monthly about a professor at George Mason University who teaches an undergraduate course called Lying About the Past. T. Mills Kelly requires his students to create elaborate online historical hoaxes intended to fool as many readers as possible. Since 2008, Kelly’s students have duped the online community into believing the story of Edward Owens,  the last American pirate, 19th century serial killer Joe Scafe, and the discovery of a very old beer recipe. The idea behind these projects, which encourage students to create fake Wikipedia articles, blogs, and chat threads, is to prove how easy it can be to publish false information online, and to demonstrate the importance of adequate research and source evaluation.

All too often, we tend to consume our facts as if they were convenience store snacks: in small, pre-packaged portions that quickly satisfy our immediate hunger, but don’t have much nutritional value. Our world has become a place where all we ask of our information is that it be “good enough.” For simple factual questions (What are the restaurant’s open hours? Who won the 1989 World Series? Why is the sky blue?) this kind of search works pretty well. But what about more in-depth questions? If you are looking for demographics, statistics, news, or the history of family relationships as portrayed in graphic novels, you will want to be sure you are accessing the most reliable information possible. Why not ask an expert for help? A librarian’s job is to help you search for, find, and evaluate information. Really. It’s not all about the Dewey Decimal System. Ask us!

Here are some great tools for learning to assess the information and sources you discover online:

University of Maryland Libraries: Evaluating Websites

Lesley University Library: Evaluating Websites

Google Search Education

And here are some tips and tricks to take your searches to the next level:

Web Searching Tips from Search Engine Watch

101 Google Tips, Tricks, and Hacks

 

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