The Internet has become a way of life for 75 percent of the population in the United States (according to Internet World Stats). But how reliable is the information they’re seeking and you’re finding?
The recent stories of Shirley Sherrod are a real life example of how misinformation on the Internet can harm someone. In this case, a blogger posted a portion of a speech she had given which made her appear to be racist. Shortly after, she was forced to resign as Georgia State Director of Rural Development for the United States Department of Agriculture. This is the short of the story — there are a whole myriad of other issues involving this case, which I won’t get into in this post because this is about being aware of the Internet and the misinformation it provides.
Another example involves a fellow Virtual Assistant. Several months ago she had a couple of her articles, taken from one of the article marketing sites, reposted on another website. She was given credit for the articles, and this is within the rules of the article marketing sites (i.e., you can use the articles as long as the author is given credit and the article is unchanged). The problem was the article had been substantially changed and the changes were not good — incorrect grammar and random words added and changed, making the article appear like it was written by a first grader. She does copywriting and anyone who Googled her name would see these horrendous writings. She has tried unsuccessfully to get the articles removed.
On Friday evening I was watching the news and it talked about a doctor who — between surgeries — visits social media sites to disperse correct medical information because, according to him, he had too many patients coming in with false information they had read on the Internet.
Why all the false information? Well, basically everyone has an opinion and if they have a computer and access to the Internet they can voice those opinions! They can be whoever they want to be on the Internet, so they can also appear to be an expert in that field.
How can you protect yourself? First, what is the purpose of the site? Is it selling a product? Is it to entertain? Is it a place where Joe Smith basically rants and raves his opinions? Next, is there contact information on the site — or an About Us page? Is the site sponsored by a company or is it a forum where anyone can post?
Check multiple sites. Don’t just read the first one you come to and believe what they say. Do more research. When I do a Google search, there are particular websites that I read first because I know they’re reliable, but I will also check some of the other sites and see what their opinion is. When I came up with the 75 percent of the U.S. population using the Internet (above), I looked at several sites before I determined the 75 percent to be accurate.
Just be aware of the sites you’re reading. And if you still have questions, call an expert in the field you’re researching and talk to them!