Can I Trust What's on the Internet?

The Internet puts vast amounts of knowledge at our fingertips. But you’ve probably heard people say, “It must be true—I read it on the Internet.” That sarcastic remark has become our shorthand for admitting what everyone knows: lots of information we find on the Internet is, well, worthless junk.

You’ve got to look at the information you find with a critical eye to know what is reliable and useful and what is not. Here are some general tips that can help:

  • Understand sponsored search results—Typically the first few links on a Google search will have a small yellow box beside them that says, “Ad.” These sites have paid Google to be among the first results returned for a keyword search. Unlike the “organic” or unsponsored search results beneath them, which are ranked by how useful people find them, their high ranking was bought.
  • Learn the difference between a bona fide news source, a blog article, and a Facebook post—What you read on blogs and Facebook is not necessarily bad information, but it’s not necessarily good information either. What you read there may just be someone’s opinion, or what someone heard someone else say. An article by a bona fide news organization will always mention where the information it is reporting came from. When you read something that sounds like advice, treatment, or an intervention, be sure to look into the qualifications of the person or group recommending it.