All men may be created equal but when it comes to web pages the exact opposite is something is published on a web site that does not mean that it should be taken as gospel. Just because a page of information pops up when you do a Google search that does not mean that it is valid or reliable information.
As a consumer of information you should remember that the accessibility and availability of the Internet to just about anyone today means that anyone anywhere can publish a web site on any subject or topic. Consider this scenario – since I know how to create web pages I could be sitting here creating a professional looking web site that focuses on a number of medical topics. I might share my opinion on how to treat certain infections. I might even give a list of symptoms to watch out for and what you should do when these symptoms occur. So what is wrong with that? Well for one thing I am not a medical doctor although I did take two biology classes in college. For another thing I conveniently failed to make it clear on my web site that I am NOT a medical doctor. So what’s the big deal? Well consider for one moment that an untrained Internet user comes across my web site and thinks that I am a real medical doctor. He takes my word about his symptoms and decides to follow my advice on what he needs to do. Not good, especially for him!
If you still don’t think it’s possible for anyone to be that gullible just ask any high school teacher. Drop in at your local library and ask the librarians there. Teachers and librarians come across it all the time.
So what can you do to avoid been taken for a cyber-ride? How do you tell the difference between a good source online and a questionable one? You do so by becoming an informed consumer. You do so by learning how to evaluate web sites.
Concerning learning, the Lord counseled us in D&C 88:118 to “…seek ye out of the best books words of wisdom…” I don’t just apply this counsel to books, I apply it to information available on the Internet as well. In fact, when evaluating a web site you should scrutinize it just as you would a book. You should expect it to adhere to the same standards of accuracy, authority, objectivity, currency, and coverage that you would expect from a book on the same subject.
In order to determine if you are using and quoting from the best possible sources online ask yourself these questions the next time you’re in front of your computer.
Who wrote this page and are they qualified to write it? What are their credentials? Did the author of the page provide his or her contact information (email, phone number, address)?
An author who is qualified to write about their topic or subject will always list not only their credentials but they will also provide their contact information or the organization’s contact information as well.
What institution published this document and does it make sense? What is the URL for the web page?
The URL should give you first clue as to whether or not this web page is something you should take seriously or not. For example, a web page sponsored by a university would normally have a URL ending in (dot)edu while the URL for a web page sponsored by an agency of the United States government normally ends with (dot)gov. A URL for a personal web page would usually end in (dot)com. Having an institution vouch for an article or an author is usually a good indication that it is authored by someone that is qualified to write on that topic.
What is the purpose of this document and why was it produced? Are they trying to sell me something?
Some web pages that seem to be authoritative might only be fronts for individuals or companies trying to sell something. I would be very suspicious of information available on such a page.
Do the links all appear to be working? Is the information outdated? If you find a lot of broken links and it seems as if the web page hasn’t been updated in quite some time you are probably better off moving on to another web page.
Information has never been more accessible. With the click of your mouse you can bring up information written on just about anything you can imagine. With this much information available it is crucial that we all be smart information consumers otherwise we could be quoting Mickey Mouse or Donald Duck without meaning to!