Can I Trust This Website?

This is the first in a series of posts about what librarians like to call information literacy. Simply put, that is how to find high quality answers to your questions. Naturally, my focus will be on digital literacy.

On July 5, 1993, The New Yorker published a cartoon of a dog at a computer telling another dog, “On the Internet, nobody knows you’re a dog.” While that’s not entirely accurate, it is true that it’s not always easy to tell who is behind the information you find on the Internet.

So, you’ve done a search and have a list of websites on your topic. There are some basic questions you should ask Do the authors know what they’re talking about? Are they making it up as they go along? Do they have a hidden agenda? How do you tell? A good starting point is to look at the end of web address or URL. The most common endings you’ll probably see are .gov, .edu, .org, or the most familiar – .com.

Websites sponsored by the U.S. government will have a URL that ends in .gov. If you have a basic distrust of the government, you may disagree, but most people accept a government website as an excellent source of accurate, high-quality information. Another good bet for accurate information is a site with a .edu domain. Only accredited institutions of higher learning (post-high school) can get a .edu address. That does not mean that the website will automatically be difficult to read or with college-level information. Many colleges and universities maintain information for the general public. But you can be certain that they have checked the accuracy of the information.

(If you think you can find what you need on government or educational websites, you can use the Advanced Search features of your favorite search engine to limit the sites you see to those domains. I’ll show you how to do that in a future post when I talk about how to search more effectively.)

The other two domains, .org and .com, won’t tell you much about the quality of the information on the website. The .com domain originally designated commercial sites, but has become so common as to be a generic standard. The .org domain is a bit trickier because any non-profit organization can get a .org address. This is where you have to ask what the agenda of the organization is. Evaluating websites with these two domains takes a bit more effort. One of my favorite tools for that task is the “C.R.A.A.P. Test,” which will be the subject of my next digital literacy post.


About booksnquilts

I'm the Children's Services Coordinator for the Jefferson-Madison Regional Library in Central Virginia.
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