How can I evaluate the credibility of information on the Internet?

Evaluating information can be a complicated process. You may find sources with information that is presented as factual and complete, when in fact it is inaccurate, fraudulent, or biased -- so it is important to determine if the sources you find are reliable and trustworthy.

Items in the library are usually easier to evaluate because they have already been reviewed twice by the time you see them. First, an editor verifies that the information is accurate and then a faculty member and/or librarian determines whether the item is appropriate for the collection. Freely-available Internet sources do not pass through this review process, so you will need to evaluate these items very carefully.

When searching on the Internet, how will you judge what is good information and what is not? Please keep the following guidelines in mind.

1.    Determine Authorship / Authority.  A first step is to determine who is responsible for the content on the site, for example looking at the About this Author or About this Site information, if made available. If you can determine the author, check on his/her educational credentials, experience, and/or other writings. Also, if an organization is indicated, determine whether it is a reputable organization. You may need to do additional searches to determine this information.

The domain of the site’s URL may provide information about the source:

Most common domain names

Domain

Meaning

Example

.edu

created at a college or university

www.uindy.edu

.gov

created by an official U.S. federal agency or office

www.federalreserve.gov

.org

varies - in most cases the site was created by a nonprofit organization or an individual

www.npr.org

.com

varies - in most cases the site was created by a for-profit organization

www.amazon.com

.net

varies greatly - often indicates that the site was created by a person, group, etc. that uses an Internet service provider

www.earthlink.net

.mil

created by the U.S. military

www.usmc.mil

.in.us

created by a state-supported institution of Indiana - the .us domain requires a state code as a second level domain

www.monroe.lib.in.us

 

2.    Determine Currency of the information and how recently the Web page has been produced or revised. Unfortunately, the Internet is full of sites that contain outdated information. New discoveries and new ways of thinking appear all the time.

3.    Determine how Objective, Complete, and Accurate the information is.

A.    Can it be verified? Information may be presented as true, but you may need to verify it through other sources instead of taking it at face value. Is the source of information cited, or methodology discussed?  

B.    Is it complete? Information can be “cherry-picked” to support a particular bias, hypothesis, point of view, opinion, etc. It’s important to get the whole story before you accept a particular opinion or conclusion as valid.