Reading something on the Internet doesn't necessarily make it true. Though the Internet has made it easier than ever to have a wealth of information at your fingertips, the noise of varying opinions on the Web has complicated online research, potentially presenting you with a wealth of misinformation as well. When you're using online sources in your research, take care to ensure you are using reliable sources. Here are some things to consider.
The Internet can be a hotbed of inaccurate information. Such misinformation can be anything from presenting old wives' tales as reliable cures for diseases to a blogger misinterpreting the results of a research study. Look for the creator of the website in general or the article in particular. If you find that it's written by an expert in the field, or that the site is published by a major association, you can feel more confident that you won't make any embarrassing mistakes.
Lack of Regulation
With few exceptions, content on the Internet is largely unregulated. Anyone can put up a Web page about anything. The best case scenario might be a government or educational resource offering the information you need to know. For less formal needs, like wanting to know how to get crayon out of your already-washed shirt, an informal expert, such as a mommy blogger who's dealt with this problem, can suffice. Danger exists, however, when people with no background in medicine or psychology start creating websites in fields where they are trying to sell you a cure.
When trying to persuade a person or a group, those people will want to know who can back up your facts. A credible source can push them over the edge. For example, saying, "An article by the American Academy of Pediatrics..." will sound better than saying, "My uncle writes a blog and he says..." Note, though, that some people prefer different types of sources. According to the Purdue Online Writing Lab, academics might prefer peer-reviewed studies, while your neighbor may be swayed by information from popular sources like Newsweek.
Many websites have some type of agenda, and it's important to scrutinize what they say, how they say it, and why saying it that way could benefit their interests. A company wants you to trust in them enough to spend your money with them. This doesn't mean that the information might not be valid, but that you have to look at it with a critical eye. A diaper company, for example, might have several articles about potty training, but is likely to suggest that it's best to use disposable underpants over cloth underpants. When you know where the money is coming from and going to, you can better assess the full truth of what you're reading. In short, be on the lookout for spin.
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